Friday, July 3, 2020

The Augur and the Girl Left at His Door, by Greta Hayer

★★★☆☆ Honorable Mention

(High Fantasy) The Augur can tell your future just by studying the skin on your body. His prophecies are detailed, and he’s only been wrong once. But when he raises an orphan girl, he’s bothered that she wants to follow in his footsteps. (3,914 words; Time: 13m)

"," by (edited by Scott H. Andrews), appeared in issue 306, published on .

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

Review: 2020.323 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The idea that accurate prophecies are a curse not a blessing was already old when Shakespeare used it in MacBeth, but the twist of a soothsayer who’s more accurate than modern DNA analysis together with a daughter who wants to learn it despite his resistance makes for a fresh tale. The Augur has mastered his trade, possibly beyond anyone before him, and yet he’s grown to hate it.

Cleverly, the text never says this outright—it gradually becomes clear from his various actions, most notably the horrific burning of the ancient, priceless book. Even then, when the story mentions that the Augur had no further need for the book, my first thought was that if he still loved his vocation, he’d have written books of his own.

The awful scene with the suitor illustrates clearly both the value and the horror of the Augur’s ability. On the one hand, a rational person would want to know that a potential partner was hopelessly flawed, and yet anyone who’s ever been in love knows that knowledge of flaws isn’t enough to quench love, so knowing the worst just means experiencing the pain sooner rather than later.

He never does tell her what he sees in store for her, but from the fact that that her husband will be a good man who’ll hold her when she dies, and that she’ll have gray hair by then tells us her life won’t be all terrible, but the fact that she’ll die on a bloody marble floor tells us it won’t all be beautiful either. The irony of his final words to her, that she should do whatever she wants, is that that’s what you should always do, regardless of the prophecy you’re given.

Con: The story seems to send a message that nothing good can come of knowing the future, but that’s not really true.

In real life, we do get prophecies, albeit none as accurate as these. The weather report is a prophecy. Warnings about COVID-19 and Climate Change are prophecies. The doctor’s interpretations of medical tests and even DNA tests are prophecies. Placement test scores are prophecies. Sometimes we overreact to prophecies, sometimes we refuse to believe them, and sometimes we use the information wisely and make our lives better.

Also, I’m not going to be happy with any story that seems to advocate burning books because it’s better to be ignorant than to know the truth.

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