Tackling alternate realities in a short story sounds like a difficult task, but Palmer completes it with ease, giving us a bunch of possible futures within the same forest setting. Most of them are terrible and tragic, with the occasional happy ending. Her writing style lends a lot to the story as she paints a vivid picture of the setting and conveys the strangeness of these worlds with careful word choice.
And of course, props to the small robotic future featuring robots reminiscent of Mr. Handy from the Fallout series. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m all about a robot story…
STONES IN THE WATER,
COTTAGE ON THE MOUNTAIN
Asimov’s Science Fiction
I’m impressed at the author’s ability to juggle multiple realities within such a short story. We see snippets of an epidemic, a dystopia where everyone is required to own a gun, a world seconds before a bomb destroys it, a robotic apocalypse, and a regular day and a regular version of the world. She’s able to convey a range of emotions, creating a rollercoaster as you imagine any number of futures for this woman in this small setting.
The woman and man are pretty nondescript, it’s more about what happens to them that matters. There are multiple states of their relationship within these realities. In some, they’re childhood friends, in others, past lovers. She dies in one, he dies in others, and in the final, they simply grew apart. The author does a good job of making us care about these two people without really introducing us to them. It makes it easy to project yourself onto these characters, imagining what it would be like to live in these versions of the world. There’s also a dog which tends to get a raw deal within most of these universes. At least in the final, he gets to have a somewhat happier story.
This remote forest complete with alternate versions of a bridge, a cabin, and an overlook, creates a subtle backdrop for the many different worlds housed within the story. In some, the bridge is collapsed, in others, it’s in mint condition. The cabin goes from rundown to newly painted. In one, a strange poison ivy hybrid is taking over the world, spreading across the entire landscape. The seclusion of the setting adds to the beauty, the terror, and the calmness of these different worlds. Her descriptions are on point, showing us the many little things that make up a moment.
Alternate Realities, Epidemic, Dystopia, Gun Violence, Apocalypse, Robots