Tuesday, August 18, 2020

An Important Failure, by Rebecca Campbell

★★★★★ A story of an obsession to make something beautiful in a world that’s falling apart.

(Climate SF) In a world desperate for wood for fires and paper, a man and his brother look for a tree good enough to make a world-class violin. (9,702 words; Time: 32m)

"," by (edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 167, published on .

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

Review: 2020.407 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Mason’s obsession to make a beautiful violin for Delgado gives him purpose even as he watches Vancouver dying together with the rest of his world. He does awful things to make this instrument, starting with helping chop down the oldest surviving Sitka Spruce so he can get just a scrap of the wood. But that still makes him different from the others, who’re destroying an irreplaceable tree just to support their drug habits.

He pays a heavy price for the willow tree in Stanly park that he chops down—his health is never the same afterwards—but he simply accepts that, just as he’s accepted the loss of so many people over his life. Just as he’s watched his own dreams of studying music in Italy fade away long before Cremona burns.

Eddie and Sophie aren’t developed very much, but we clearly see why Mason loves them. Cantankerous Eddie who saw something in Mason and trusted him even when he was just a youth, and nurturing Sophie who knew everything he was doing and never chided him for it—and who, at the end, made sure he knew he had a place to go.

In terms of plot, it’s really all about watching Mason try to make his violin, with the deterioration of the world in the background. We know Delgado was born about 2025, and she was about 13 when Mason was 26, and he was about 50 when he gave her the violin, so that puts the last scene around 2065, and then she played it until 2110 or so. That’s about the right time frame for the sort of climatic catastrophes described in the story. It’s about the worst possible imaginable future, but it is a possible future, and that’s pretty scary by itself.

The story avoids the easy tears of showing us the deaths of Eddie, Sophie, Jake, or Mason himself. Instead, it actually ends on a hopeful note when it tells us that the violin, the product of so many bad acts (including the epidemic that killed the population of the Americas and [arguably] caused the cold weather that made the spruce so suitable in the first place), would be played and appreciated in centuries to come. The dark time that Mason lived in, and the dark years that Delgado lived through, would eventually be followed by better times, and all his work, and all his “crimes,” in the end, were not in vain.

Con: Was it worth it? Over and over while reading this story, I found myself thinking, “The man’s a vandal!” Yes, if he didn’t take the spruce, someone else would have. Or the willow. And in time, they’d both grow back. He did leave something of lasting value, but for much of the story, I didn’t like him very much.

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