This is a shorter review collection than usual for me, because Ray Nayler has only been publishing in the SF magazines since 2015, but his work has been so exceptional, I think he deserves the extra notice. Today is his birthday, so in his honor, here we go:
Locus, July 2015
Every once in a while a story knocks you flat, and that's a special thing. When it comes from a writer unfamiliar to you, it may be even more special. Ray Nayler's “Mutability”, in the June Asimov's, is such a story for me. It's set a few centuries in the future, a time that seems pleasant enough and in some ways not much changed from now – perhaps a bit more peaceful. There are just enough hints of future tech to convince, but the key change, only slowly revealed, is that people seem to be very long-lived, with a “memory horizon” (like in Kim Stanley Robinson's “Green Mars”). The protagonist is a scholar of an obscure lost language called “SAE” (Standard American English, I trust), and the story turns on his meeting a woman in his regular cafe … They have a story, which I'll leave Nayler to tell – and it's a good one, but the gestalt of the overall story is even better. Lovely.
Locus, April 2016
And Ray Nayler’s “Do Not Forget Me” (Asimov's, March) is a nicely multiply framed story, set in Central Asia, in which a man tells his wife a story he heard from a poet about a slave raider and the strange wanderer he captures.
Locus, March 2017
Ray Nayler is back in the January-February Asimov’s with another quiet and exceptional story, “Winter Timeshare”. Regina is visiting Istanbul, as she does every winter, intending to rendezvous with her long-time lover Ilkay. The SFnal hook is that the two, relatively privileged people in this future, take their vacations in “timeshares”: that is, they are “sheathed” in “blanks”: apparently empty bodies into which consciousnesses are downloaded. The story is partly about the resentment many have of the “blanks” (or the “dead”); and about terrorist actions, which end up distracting Ilkay (a security specialist), and end up forcing Regina (occupying unfamiliar male blank) to take unexpected action. But it’s also about Istanbul in winter, and a curiously intermittent love affair; and about the hints of an extremely interesting world situation behind everything.
Locus, December 2018
Another sort of mystery is at the heart of “Incident at San Juan Bautista”, by Ray Nayler (Asimov's, November-December). In Old West San Juan Bautista, August Sutherland, German immigrant turned dentist turned hired killer, is preparing for his latest assignment. He is fascinated by a woman in the saloon, and obtains her services. But she is a much stranger creature than your standard-issue beautiful Western movie whore, as August learns when she first extracts from him his story, then tells him as much of hers as he can understand. SF readers will have ideas about what or who she is – but the story doesn’t really reveal that in detail, just shows the eerie results of her particular pastime. Cool stuff.