Sunday, December 16, 2018

Birthday Review: Stories of Ted Kosmatka

Ted Kosmatka is another of the long list of SF writers born on this date. Here's a selection of my reviews of his stories.

Locus, August 2007

Another new writer, Ted Kosmatka, also impresses with a dark story: “The Prophet of Flores”, set in an alternate world in the Earth has been proven to be only 5800 years old, and in which evolutionists are crackpots. A scientist is recruited to study the dwarf people of the Indonesian island Flores – but these discoveries are politically and religiously bombshells. Even in a world where Creationism is true, the forces of orthodoxy are unwilling to accept the implications of scientific investigation. Effective stuff.

Locus, June 2008

The June F&SF opens with a tense novelette from Ted Kosmatka, who is a rising star of short SF – where he stands now reminds me of where, say, Paolo Bacigalupi stood in 2004. Like Bacigalupi on occasion, or early Greg Egan, he has a certain tendency to yoke his neat SFnal ideas to thriller plots. This works best if the plot can be made to turn, at least in part, on the idea – and that’s the case in “The Art of Alchemy”. The narrator is a specialist in memory metals, working for a steel company based in northern Indiana. He tells his story in past tense, and for him it is the story of his love affair with Veronica, a brilliant and beautiful black woman, an up and coming management star with the company, who for some reason chose him. But he comes to learn that she has multiple loyalties – to her own past, of course, but also to the company. And when she gets an offer to the specs for a miracle material that may threaten the future of the steel business those loyalties are tested. And so are the narrator’s loyalties. The story nicely balances a wrenching love story with a good near future SF idea with a crackling thriller conclusion.

Locus, August 2008

I recently in these pages brought up Greg Egan’s name in connection with Ted Kosmatka. The comparison seems even stronger with “Divining Light”. Here Kosmatka, like Egan, examines esoteric Physics and also human consciousness, as a rather damaged researcher finds a way to investigate what sort of “consciousness” is required to collapse quantum events – with scary implications of much wider import than purely Physics.

Locus, June 2009

Belatedly I’ll catch up with Subterranean’s online offerings. For Spring, Gardner Dozois is the Guest Editor, and the best story so far (Spring is not over!), is Ted Kosmatka’s “The Ascendant”, set in a very odd prison, apparently part of some sort of arcology, and telling of a child born to a woman prisoner, and his growing awareness of his world. The story ends, alas, well before the boy’s story ends – surely more work in this setting is forthcoming.

Locus, November 2009

Much darker is “Blood Dauber” (Asimov's, November), by Ted Kosmatka and Michael Poore. Bell is a zookeeper, who rather loves his job despite its awfulness. But his life is a mess: his job doesn’t pay well, and his wife resents the financial stress that results. And to tell the truth Bell is a bit of a mess anyway. Things come to something of a head when he makes friends (sort of) with a criminal working off his community service time at the zoo. At the same time he discovers a very strange insect, that appears to actively adapt to local conditions. Bell begins to experiment with the insect, trying to adapt it to different environments. But crises in his personal and professional life impinge, leading to a horrifying conclusion, and dark resolution.

Locus, January 2012

At the January/February F&SF I liked “The Color Least Used in Nature”, by Ted Kosmatka, a dark and powerful story of a boat builder in a South Pacific island. The fantasy element is slim -- walking trees that make remarkable boats -- but the heart of the story is wonderful, a complex mix of an elegiac look at the effects of colonialism on the island people with the effects of love disappointed and violence on the life of the boat builder, and of the women he loves and his children.

Locus, May 2016

The April Asimov’s is one of the best magazine issues I’ve seen in some time. All three novelettes are very fine. Ted Kosmatka’s “The Bewilderness of Lions” and Dale Bailey’s “I Married a Monster from Outer Space” both seem pure examples of stories that use thinnish SF tropes quite well in service of more mundane concerns. Kosmatka’s story is Caitlin, who consults for a political candidate as a kind of data miner. She is able to predict unusual happenings that might affect the campaign, quite successfully, until someone seems to notice, and makes her an offer … So far, so typical: a shadowy conspiracy running the world (I was reminded a bit of the film version of Philip Dick’s “The Adjustment Bureau”): but Kosmatka gives Caitlin a powerful back story, concerning her brother, and ties it very effectively to her ultimate dilemma.

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