Posts Tagged ‘alternate realities’

EP545: Murder or a Duck


AUTHOR: Beth Goder
NARRATOR: Amy H. Sturgis
HOST: Alasdair Stuart

about the author…

Beth Goder worked as an archivist at Stanford before becoming a full-time mom to wonderful twin girls. Now she enjoys writing speculative fiction stories about archives, memory, records, and the relationship between the past and present. She has a degree in information science from the University of Michigan and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

about the narrator…ahsshotfour2

AHS holds a Ph.D. in Intellectual History and specializes in the fields of Science Fiction/Fantasy and Native American Studies. She lives with her husband, Dr. Larry M. Hall, and their best friend, Virginia the Boston terrier, in the foothills of North Carolina, USA.

Murder or a Duck
by Beth Goder

George called out, “Mrs. Whitman, you have a visitor.”

Mrs. Whitman strode from her workroom, her white hair skipping out of its hairpins. She straightened her work skirt, massaged her bad knee, then hurried down the hall.

“George, what’s happened to the lamp with the blue shade?”

“To which lamp are you referring?” George smoothed down a cravat embroidered with tiny trombones. Improper attire for a butler, but George had never been entirely proper.

Mrs. Whitman examined the sitting room in further depth. The blue lamp was gone, as were the doilies, thank goodness. An elegant table sat between the armchair and green sofa, which was infused with the stuffy smell of potpourri. Behind the sofa hung The Roses of Wiltshire, a painting that Mrs. Whitman had never cared for, despite its lush purples and pinks and reds. And the ficus was there, too, of course.

Mrs. Whitman pulled out a battered notebook. George’s trombone cravat indicated she was in a timeline where he was courting Sonia. A good sign, indeed. Perhaps, after six hundred and two tries, she’d finally landed in a timeline where Mr. Whitman would return home safely.

Consulting her charts, she circled some continuities and crossed out others, referring often to an appendix at the back. The notebook was worn, its blue cover faded. And it was the twelfth one she’d had since starting the project.

George cleared his throat. Mrs. Whitman didn’t even glance up. “You have a visitor,” he said.

“George, I need to ask you a few questions.”

George sighed, but made no comment.

“Has Mr. Whitman returned from his trip?” She always asked this question first, in the hope that George would direct her to the study, where she’d find Mr. Whitman reading a book or knitting socks.

“He’s due back sometime today.”

That was what George always said. Mrs. Whitman had been through it over and over again; she knew it was useless to organize a search until the evening, when everyone else would begin to worry.

Undeterred, Mrs. Whitman asked her control question. “Did you wear your navy suit anywhere this year?”

George raised an eyebrow, but said, “I wore my suit once to the Lacklustres’ evening ball, and again at the horse show for troubled teens.”

If the Lacklustres were holding a ball, then they hadn’t gone bankrupt yet, which meant she was in a timeline where Winston Tuppers hadn’t revealed Mr. Lacklustre’s banking fraud. And the horse show for troubled teens never appeared without a corresponding tea party later in June. Mrs. Whitman flipped busily through her charts.

“Which tea cakes are they selling at the market on Quill Lane? Chocolate? Lavender? Orange and cream?” she asked.

“There is no market on Quill Lane. It was torn down last year,” George said, a rare look of concern on his face. “Are you sure you’re feeling quite all right?”

“Just one more question,” said Mrs. Whitman, making a mark in her notebook. “Is it Sir Henry waiting in the foyer?”

“No,” he said. “Mrs. Lane requests your attention.”

Mrs. Whitman snapped the notebook closed. If Mrs. Lane was visiting, it could only mean one thing. She was either there to kill Mrs. Whitman or sell her a duck.

(Continue Reading…)

Book Review: Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin


Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le GuinChanging Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin is a book based on a little pun — the idea that the relentless hostility of airports to the human mind can, at times, drive a person out of our plane of reality and into another. While waiting to change planes, then, one might find one’s self actually changing planes. Since only a few minutes pass in one’s home plane while one is traveling through another, there’s no reason not to spend one’s layover napping on a tropical beach or hiking through some other world’s mountains.

Changing Planes doesn’t have a plot as such. It’s a series of vignettes of the different planes one might choose to visit. Each one is enthrallingly lyrical (I was almost sucked back into the book in the process of writing this review) and drawn with the eye for telling detail that has always made Le Guin’s writing stand out from the rest of genre fiction. Each chapter addresses a different world. The shift in tone ought to be jarring, but isn’t — though she focuses on a different aspect of humanity in each world the protagonist (such as there is) visits or hears about, the book still stands as a cohesive whole.

When I picked up Changing Planes, I didn’t realize that I had already read two of the chapters when they were published as short stories in Lightspeed Magazine. One of them — “The Silence of the Asonu” — stayed on my iPod for a while so that I could re-listen to it. I love the feelings it evokes. It is not a happy story — few of these chapters are happy stories. The deep mystery of the silence of the Asonu combined with the ridiculous mysticism that tourists have projected onto them call to mind a pattern that I am familiar with from our world. That the story takes such a dark turn at the end fits that pattern.

Science fiction is at its best when it reflects aspects of our shared humanity back at us. The worlds in Changing Planes are similar to ours, with a few telling changes. I believe that anyone who reads these stories will come away with a clear idea of what Le Guin was criticizing about our society — but I don’t think any two people will necessarily agree about what that was. Take the other story that is available in Lightspeed: “The Island of the Immortals.” Is it a commentary on the quest for eternal life? Or a statement about how a society chooses to treat its elderly? Both? Or something else? Even stories that don’t feel particularly nuanced proved to be more complicated than they appeared once I tried to pick them apart. For example, I remembered the chapter called “Great Joy” as a straightforward commentary on corporate greed. Upon rereading, it was clearly a scathing criticism of the commodification of holidays.

Changing Planes will frustrate some readers. It does lack a plot and a clearly-drawn protagonist. Its style reminded me most strongly of Always Coming Home — which happens to be my favorite work by Le Guin. I think it will speak to people who love science fiction for its own sake, and not just for the superficial trappings of rockets and starships. Le Guin is once again trying to make her readers look at the world in a new way. Whether or not Changing Planes succeeds in doing that will depend on the reader. Fans of Le Guin should give Changing Planes a look. Readers who are on the fence should read or listen to the two chapters published in Lightspeed before making up their minds.