Science Fiction Short Story Review: "And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead" by Brooke Bolander

@msiduri (5732)
United States
July 16, 2016 7:46am CST
It’s Saturday, so I’m reviewing a story from The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016. Today’s offering, a cyberpunk tale titled “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead,” written by Brooke Bolander, was awarded Third Place in the Best Novelette 2016 Locus Award. It’s also been nominated for 2016 Nebula, Sturgeon, and Hugo Awards. A lot of grand high muck-a-mucks think this was a pretty cool tale and were willing to offer the author a bunch of money for it. Well, good for her. In the opening paragraph, our heroine, Rhye, can only watch and scream as a mobster smiles and pulls the trigger, blowing her partner Rack’s “perfect brains” out from between his ears. He’s dead, but not quite gone. Cyborgish Rack had plugged into cyberspace to recover the son of the head of the Ganymede gang. Mobster fils had gone in and couldn’t get out. The mobsters tell Rhye—if she cares—she can recover her partner by going into cyberspace and finishing the job he was supposed to do. She doesn’t care, she tells them. And she’s going to kill them all! But in she goes: It’s like floating in black static, and all the pressure is sitting on top of Rhye’s head sumo-style, pushing her further down. Lines of code play across the insides of her eyes. Floaters are annoying; this is ******* maddening. And it hurts. She can’t keep a straight thought, scalpels of pain are slicing through her brain over and over and she ******* hates this cyberspace ********. It’s Rack’s thing, not hers. Rhye likes her **** concrete. Rhye likes having a body. North, South, East, West. You use your feet to walk in a direction and then you shoot some ************ at the end of it. Finding Rack in here is gonna be like finding a seed in an elephant’s ***, especially if he’s tangled up with a security system. He had sounded scare ******** over the comm-link before that waste of [semen] had done what he did. Thinking about that made Rhye’s non-existent ******* clench. …the reader is treated to about twenty pages of this. Yep. I will say that this is not simply an angry slash, bleed, and curse story. Bitter, violent Rhys quite literally confronts herself. In one scene, she is rowed across the River Styx by a Charon-figure who doesn’t speak to her, even after she offers him a cigarette. In the same scene, a small army of those she has killed come up to the boat, one by one. The story is told in the present tense, adding tension. The writing is fine, the story good (bad guys get their comeuppance, good guy gets…er, well, it’s complicated), but the reading is just… unpleasant. Vulgar. Angry. It’s like listening to the rant of an adolescent—albeit a witty adolescent with a wide vocabulary. Yeah, I’m old. I really wanted to like this story, but I couldn’t. Lightspeed, the magazine where the story first appeared, has made it available online: This is actually the author profile, but the link to the story is here. I noticed when I linked the story directly, forbidden words showed up in the post. This is the best compromise I could come up with. _____ Title: “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” Published in: The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 First Published: Lightspeed February 2015 Author: Brooke Bolander
Brooke Bolander is a chaos-sowing trickster girl of indeterminate employment, half-tornado, half-writer. Originally from the deepest, darkest regions of the southern US, she attended the University of Leicester from 2004 to 2007 studying History and Archae
3 people like this
3 responses
@OreoBrownie (3653)
• Commerce, Georgia
17 Jul 16
Good synopsis.
1 person likes this
@msiduri (5732)
• United States
17 Jul 16
Thank you.
@teamfreak16 (42457)
• Denver, Colorado
16 Jul 16
Wow. Fun story.
1 person likes this
@msiduri (5732)
• United States
16 Jul 16
Maybe it's... art? She won an award and she's been nominated for a bunch more.
1 person likes this
@JohnRoberts (66869)
• Los Angeles, California
16 Jul 16
I was confused just reading your synopsis. Not for me.
1 person likes this
@msiduri (5732)
• United States
16 Jul 16
Oh, I hope that reflects the story and not my synopsis. I think it's a generational thing. Maybe someone who thirty years old will think this is just fantastic. I don't know, but I would hazard a guess you're in over thirty-five neighborhood.