Saturday, June 15, 2019

Hunting the Viper-King, by Kathryn Harlan

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[Strange Horizons]
★★★★☆ Fun on several levels.

(Modern Fantasy) Teenage Dorothy accompanies her father across the US in search for the mythical Viper-King, a giant snake whose fat confers wisdom on the first person to eat it. (6,053 words; Time: 20m)

"," by (edited by Vanessa Rose Phin), appeared in issue 06/03/19, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2019.340 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The real charm of this story is that it tells the tale of a teenage girl who’s spent her whole life with her father in the pointless quest of a mythical monster but who has begun to grow up and realize things aren’t really what she’s always believed them to be. This is the real core of the story, even in the face of the prospect that the monster might not be so mythical after all.

Dorothy really loves and respects her dad, despite everything. That said, her cynical observations of things that happen add a good bit of color to the tale.

The story of someone caught up in someone else’s obsession should be relevant even to people who don’t believe in conspiracy theories.

I loved the conclusion, where Dorothy eats the fat herself, and sees the answers to all the questions we’ve had all along. Most important, we see that her dad really loved her, even before she was born. How he’ll cope with the discovery that the fat doesn’t work for him, and whether he’ll suspect his daughter robbed him, we just don’t know, although given everything else, I’d expect he’d just figure he got the wrong snake and keep looking.

More interesting is the question of what happens to Dorothy now. The most logical cost of learning the wisdom of the snake would be that you eventually become the snake yourself, although I don’t really see a hint of that in the story.

Con: I’m surprised he let anyone near the snake until he’d eaten some of the fat—raw—by himself. That seemed like much too big a thing to take a chance on.

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Kathryn Harlan Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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