Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Chris Willrich

Birthday Review: Stories of Chris Willrich

Chris Willrich turns 52 today. He's a neat writer of both fantasy and SF, probably better known for his Persimmon and Bone fantasies (several short stories and three novels), but his SF has been very nice too. Here's a collection of my Locus reviews of his work:

Locus, July 2002

I also liked Chris Willrich's atmospheric fantasy "King Rainjoy's Tears" (F&SF, July), in which the poet Persimmon Gaunt and her lover, the thief Imago Bone, must find the exiled, personified, title objects, lest the compassion-deprived King force his country into war.

Locus, May 2003

Chris Willrich's "Count to One" (Asimov's, May) quite intriguingly considers the relationship of an AI and a human. Kwatee was developed to understand the Earth's climate well enough to recommend a course of action to save Earth from either runaway greenhouse effect or a new ice age. He "lives" mostly in a simulation of Earth, taking on a persona resembling an American Indian god. Now he faces danger from "wolves", viruses of some sort that have been attacking him. But he is also in love, with a woman who enters his simulation virtually. And he needs to make a decision -- what ecological changes are best? And best for whom? Humans? Earth? Life in general? Kwatee? A very thoughtful, moving, piece.

Locus, August 2006

I thought the August issue of F&SF particularly strong, one of the best issues of any magazine this year. It opens and closes with strong novelettes. Chris Willrich’s “Penultima Thule” is another Persimmon Gaunt/Imago Bone story. The poet Gaunt and her lover Bone have headed north, hoping to dispose of the deadly book they have stolen, a “cacography”. Reading it is fatal, and its influence is malignant even unread. But nearly at the northern rim of the world Bone is captured by the Stonekin, to become a victim of the “Hunger Stone”. Gaunt must free him and then flee with him to the Rim – still not knowing what will result of ridding the world of the book. It’s colorful, dourly romantic, and bleakly funny, and in the end moving and poetic.

Locus, September 2007

The pick story in the August F&SF is Chris Willrich’s “A Wizard of the Old School”. This is another story about the thieves Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone. But here the title character is central: Krumwheezle of the Old School. It was he who identified the baleful book which featured in the previous story “Penultima Thule”. In this story we learn more of Krumwheezle – his history at the Old School, his lost lover, his quiet life in his adopted village. And when Gaunt and Bone return, still cursed though they hope to have a child, he joins them on a quest that may cure them – and, it turns out, may cure some of his own problems, problems he hardly acknowledges. This is a story that is both a satisfying and imaginative high fantasy, and an equally satisfying, slightly sentimental, domestic tale.

Locus, January 2009

The new webzine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, devoted to, in editor Scott H. Andrews’s words, “literary adventure fantasy”, is off to a promising start. The first couple of issues of this biweekly magazine feature a strong Gaunt and Bone story from Chris Willrich, in which his continuing characters, a pair of lovers, one a thief, one a poet, are charged with returning the title object, “The Sword of Loving Kindness”, to its rightful owner – with consequences expected to be dire, yet which turn out ironically different.

Locus, June 2009

Another very pure SF story in the June Asimov's comes from Chris Willrich, better known for his sword and sorcery stories at F&SF. “Sails the Morne” is a very strange story, only slowly comprehensible – but in a good way. It evolves into a mystery, with a spaceship and its motley crew (humans and AIs, from Earth and elsewhere) transporting a valuable artifact (The Book of Kells) as well as a likewise motley group of aliens to an Exposition on the outskirts of the Solar system. Theft and murder result … it’s very entertaining, often quite funny, satisfyingly concluded.

Locus, September 2011

The new Black Gate is another monster-sized issue. (Full disclosure – I have an article in the magazine, and am a regular contributor.) As ever it’s stuffed with satisfying adventure fantasy. Notable here is how often the heroes are the unexpected:  for example Chris Willrich’s “The Lions of Karthagar”, in which two armies from opposite sides of the world converge on the peaceful city of Karthagar, beside the Ruby Waste, there to learn that peace comes at a price. Conventional enough, if well executed, except that the story is told through two aging weatherworkers, one from each camp, who find in each other something more valuable than their ambitious masters, or the utopia of Karthagar.

Locus, May-June 2012

Finally, in the May F&SF, Chris Willrich offers “Grand Tour”, in which I-Chen Fisher is a young woman, ready to take her “Grand Tour” among the stars, while her loving but perhaps a little stifling family readies to see her off, and to leave on a Wanderjahr of their own. Luckily, she meets a boy her own age with his different sort of family problems. Little enough really happens, but it's a nice glimpse of an expansive-seeming future, and a nice look at a few well-drawn characters.

Chris Willrich has another story, “The Mote Dancer and the Firelife”, at Beneath Ceaseless Skies for March 8. Oddly enough, its main character is also named I-Chen – perhaps she is meant to be a much older version of the character in “Grand Tour”? (Not that the story suggests that!) She's returned to the planet where her husband died, accompanied by his ghost, to look for resolution of sorts. The natives of this planet, called Spinies, can link into a network facilitated by ancient alien technology (“Motes”), and they feel a certain contempt for humans, who mostly can't. But I-Chen is a rare human “Mote Dancer” … The story involves the alien's habit of fighting as pairs (“Quixotes” and “Sanchos”), and the “Firelife” where their dead go – including perhaps the Spiny who killed her husband. It's neat, colorful stuff.

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