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9.14.2011

Geoff Ryman's "What We Found"

Geoff Ryman's story "What We Found," which can be read in the SEPT/OCT issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, is one of those redeeming tales that keep me interested in the digest. I really had some trepidation about extending my subscription a few months ago. The publication has some decent books columns, and there are occasionally brilliant tales found in these pages, but I found there was more of the hard science fiction than I like, and also a bit more of the whimsical fantastic than suited my tastes. I'm a fan of the mundane speculative tale, the stories where small artifacts and encounters take on greater meaning as a result of their speculative influences, whatever they may be.

So it's been nice to see some of the stories that carry that out well published recently in F & SF. Ken Liu's "The Paper Menagerie" is just that type of story, and so is "What We Found." I would expect that this story, a treatise on familial love and betrayal, the ties that bind us to our genetic inheritances, and the uncertainty of madness, will make many lists of best fiction when those things come back into fashion during the holidays.

It deserves its critical praise. Our first-person narrator is simultaneously detached and intimate. It makes for a very compelling character study. The narrative heart of the story is the narrator's love for his mercurial brother, Raphael. Their connection is based on genuine love and mutual respect, and the time that Ryman takes in illustrating their bond makes the final act all the more heart breaking for the reader.

In many ways, "What We Found" strikes me as a companion to Louise Erdrich's fine tale of sibling dissolution, "The Red Convertible." Raphael and Junior share a number of the same character traits and, ultimately and unfortunately, a similar fate.

I won't delve too far into the plot of Ryman's story here because it's such a treat to read, but if you're familiar with the Erdrich story, you'll find the tale packs an emotional wallop. Ryman's writing is excellent. The fluidity and clarity of the prose I discovered here have compelled me to seek out and read his novels...

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