Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Ray Nayler

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.


  1. Rich, thank you for these very fine and sensitive reviews, which really capture the core of these stories. This is a very nice birthday gift, to read them again. By the way - did you catch "A Threnody for Hazan" in the March / April 2018 Asimov's? I thought you would like that one, but never saw a review of it.

    1. I did read it, and I liked it, but I didn't review it -- reasons of space, I think.

    2. In fact I looked through my files yesterday, convinced I must have reviewed it, but it didn't show up!

    3. I was just curious. I always look forward to your reviews, and look out for them - they feel like a conversation. Looking forward to seeing what you think of "The Ocean Between the Leaves" upcoming in Asimov's!