Saturday, August 23, 2014

THE MAN WHO BRIDGED THE MIST, Hugo & Nebula Best Novella Winner


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Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: The river of Mist, an almost living organism, divides the Empire in two. A few Ferries make dangerous and treacherous journeys across the Mist when they can, trusting in good fortune and the uncanny skills of those plying the trade. *** A bridge across the Mist will greatly ease the suffering of those who risk crossing the river. The last bridge builder sent by the Empire died while building it. *** Kit now comes to the town of Nearside to complete the task left unfinished by the dead bridge builder. Will he be the man who will finally bridge the Mist?

This novella won both the Nebula and the Hugo Awards for Best Novella of 2011.

My Review: My Goodreads friend Nataliya recommended this novella to me today. The title, as beautiful and evocative as this author's debut collection of short fiction's was (At the Mouth of the River of Bees), hooked me; the Doc's warble of rapture sealed the deal.
There was for everything a possibility, an invisible pattern that could be made manifest given work and the right materials.
Bless you, dear Doc, bless you and those whose hurts and harms you heal with that magiqckal ability to see and fix a pattern. This story was a piece of my own pattern that was missing, and you gave it to me.

This tale of a man in a world not entirely like our own, a man whose purpose is to function and whose function is to build, that needs a way to communicate and connect its parts. Technology isn't advanced, and there's not even a HINT of majgicqk to sully the handsome, spare caternary curve of the story. It is a story of a world beset by troubles we know bone-deep, connection and confusion and longing and fear. And every character, no matter how fleeting their time or how small their space on the page, carries the weight of their piece of the pattern fairly and squarely. This is how I know I'm in the presence of top-quality writing. I see the pattern, I sense the supporting structure, and I am still *in* the story. Many writers write lovely sentences and many others imagine some strong characters, relatable and investible, and many many more create stories that bind and grip and sweep and carry me away. A very few do two of these things, and a vanishingly small number do them all. In this work, Johnson has done them all.

In a fortyish-page novella, five years of toil and change and death and learning fold into a structure as deceptively simple as an origami crane. The slow and unhurried pace at which the folds present themselves belies the time it took to craft them as well as the conciseness of their delivery. It is never easy to be brief. It is much more demanding to satisfy the jaded, spoiled-for-choice reader in a compact package.
“The soul often hangs in a balance of some sort. Tonight do I lie down in the high fields with Dirk Tanner or not? At the fair, do I buy ribbons or wine? For the new ferry’s headboard, do I use camphor or pearwood? Small things. A kiss, a ribbon, a grain that coaxes the knife this way or that. They are not, Kit Meinem of Atyar. Our souls wait for our answer because any answer changes us. This is why I wait to decide what I feel about your bridge. I’m waiting until I know how I will be changed.”
“You never know how things will change you,” Kit said.
“If you don’t, you have not waited to find out.”
Simple, direct, truthful, and (for me anyway) resonant with truth.

Perhaps the defining moment of the story, the bridging of the Mist River, came for me when Kit and Rasali experience a deeply, intensely frightening encounter with the Mist. Reflecting on it, and on the death that comes for us all at some time we can't know for sure, Kij Johnson rang my eyes like gongs:
“If {Death} comes for you?” he said. “Would you be so sanguine then?”
She laughed and the pensiveness was gone. “No indeed. I will curse the stars and go down fighting. But it will still have been a wonderful thing, to cross the mist.”
Won't it, though?

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