Over on Twitter the inimitable Paul Jessup recently said that a bad review focuses on the reader’s expectations, not the quality of the book. When perusing short fiction on Tor.com, I came across a story by Brian Evenson with this tagline: “a scientist makes a plan to save humanity that would shame the devil.” I figured, it’s Brian Evenson. I loved Last Days and am eager to read more of his work. If anyone can come up with a plan that would shame the devil, Evenson would be the author. I practically had to read it.
The story itself is short, but there’s a lot going on, from climate change to genetic engineering, capitalism gone rampant, plans to save the earth that were well-intentioned but never fruitful, and plans for a select few billionaires and essential personnel to leave Earth behind on a spaceship. In other words, it doesn’t sound very farfetched. The end of the earth feels pretty imminent these days.
The ending of Evenson’s story was satisfying, but I wondered if the scientist’s plan would really shame the devil. I mean, after all we’ve seen. All the real-life villains that have walked the earth thinking they are saints, cleansing the earth. THIS would shame the devil? I felt a little cheated.
This, of course, presents an interesting problem and brings us back to Jessup’s take. The story is great. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. A few images, and the relationship of the scientist with his daughter, will haunt you. Evenson paid a subtle homage to Mary Shelley and the pages turned very quickly. The writing was excellent, full of unpretentious beauty.
The only problem was the lofty expectation set by the tagline. Of course, they probably sold a lot of ebooks with a marketing line like that, so Tor and Evenson likely don’t care. The devil would be proud, either way.
You won’t be sorry if you read the story. You can buy it as an ebook to take with you, or read it here.