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Audio fiction review: The Periling Hand by Justin Howe

Thursday, August 30, 2018 - 18:28

I'm trying to make a push to get caught up with some casual reviewing as well as my review commitments. Since I'm currently still dazed from having dental work (new crown) I'll go for the casual side and more recently consumed.

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I often comment on how I'm a big fan of "throw 'em in the deep end of the worldbuilding pool and expect them to swim." When that style of story doesn't work for me, most often it's because in some essential way the story isn't for me. It not merely throws worldbuilding at me unexplained, but it assumes layers of knowledge that I simply don't bring to the story. Otherwise I'm happy to surf the wave of uncertainty and see where it takes me.

"The Periling Hand" by Justin Howe, presented on the Beneath Ceaseless Skies podcast takes that type of worldbuilding approach, but failed for me not so much in taking it too far, but in offering me very little story to go with the worldbuilding. The main character has recently suffered an accidental amputation, but fitted with a symbiotic artificial wooden arm that is somehow animated by some...substance?...applied to it. Investigates an unexpected death. And ends up sharing body space with...something...not sure what.

The story offers a wealth of unexplained terminology, concepts, entities, cultural practices, and backstory but none of it ever seems to come together to form a coherent whole. Or even an intelligible whole. One gets the impression that there is definitely a larger story structure into which this work fits, but it fails to stand on its own, not merely in terms of information but even in terms of plot. It's as if the game-play manual for an RPG were presented with a thin veneer of narrative rather than being structured in encyclopedic form.

Maybe I'm being overly harsh, but given that I know that I'm well on the far end of the scale for enjoying deep-end SFF settings, I suspect there are many people for whom this story will work even less well.

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