association-list a veritable mint for dunning-kruggerands

Short Story Club - The Shangri-La Affair

This week’s short story club story is The Shangri-La Affair by Lavie Tidhar, who I’d never heard of before.

It’s really quite good.

I was struck from the first by the confidence of the narrative voice. The story follows an unnamed protagonist from a quite close third-person perspective through a future war in South-East Asia, concerning a particular MacGuffin in the form of a peace plague (the Shangri-La of the title), virally transmissable fellow-feeling that stops hostilities in their tracks. We only get to see its effects for a moment before everything is blown to atoms by the unseen backers of our nameless viewpoint character. The story’s prime emotional conflict is his struggle between destroying the peace plague and letting it spread. Finally, he decides that peace not chosen is no peace worth having. This struggle would have more resonance if we had some theory as to how the peace plague works. If the reader were allowed another viewpoint on whether or not the plague nullifies free will, it very well might deepen the effect of his choice. The doubt it still there, but I think that it’d be better if it were made a bit more explicit.

The story isn’t perfect, of course. There are only token female characters and the people that we encounter for the most part are generic Men of Action and Consequence. The plot is at least four decades old and the tone is taken straight from smeary spy novels set in warzones far away from the home front, without any real engagement with the consequences of the war on the people who live there. What virtue the piece has lies in the cleverness of its synthesis of these elements, and I think that it succeeds very well (that said, I tend towards synthesis ( see update below ) in my tastes, perhaps to a fault, Gene Wolfe and Michael Swanwick being favorites of mine).

Since reading it, I’ve gone on something of a Tidhar binge, and what is out there on line really strikes me as quality stuff, some of it better, I think, than this particular piece, 304 Adolf Hitler Strasse over at Clarkesworld being the best of the stuff online, in my opinion, at least that I’ve found. I also went out and bought HebrewPunk and ordered The Bookman, so I may be in the throes of an irrational enthusiasm. Looking forward to what he produces in the future.

UPDATE: see here for a clarification of the terminology that I’m using above.

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