“Stereogram of the Grey Fort, in the Days of Her Glory” by Paul Berger

November 14, 2010 at 12:01 am | Posted in Short Stories | 6 Comments
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This week’s short story club story is “Stereogram of the Grey Fort, in the Days of Her Glory” by Paul Berger, published by Fantasy Magazine. Of the twelve stories so far, this is my favorite by a fair margin. Now, I’ll admit that I am a complete sucker for stories that show the same events from widely different points of view, but even aside from that, finally this is a story whose ambition matches its length.

Although the stereogram conceit was enough by itself to make me like the story, as used there are a few weaknesses. According to Loran, taken separately each image of the stereogram means nothing, but the story didn’t quite meet this standard. By backloading a lot of context into Jessica’s point of view, the story mimics the feeling of something clicking into place, but in fact if we were just given Jessica’s point of view we would have almost the entire story. As a result the story feels at least as much like the Onion’s point-counterpoint articles as it does a stereogram. Another feature it shares with the Onion’s point-counterpoint is that after you see the way the second part begins, the rest is relatively predictable. I did like the way Jessica took advantage of Loran’s war injury to incapacitate him, though. Finally, Berger cheats slightly by having Jessica’s narrative extend a little farther than Loran’s, but the story’s more than good enough to forgive these small issues.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the setting, and probably the concept the author meant to actually show in the story’s “stereogram”, is the nature of the colonial government. Loran’s narrative makes it very clear that the Elves only respect strength and were in fact disappointed when they finally defeated humans. Unlike the colonial powers of our world, they don’t seem to be extracting labor or natural resources. There’s likewise no equivalent of the White Man’s Burden, or at least, not since the war ended, since they see humans as only being worthy of respect when they are capable of fighting the Elves. Yet Loran says that in his role as a sort of regional governor he is responsible for “teaching” the humans under his control. What could he want to teach them, then, if not to fight back again? It seems like we are meant to conclude that he has essentially planned his own murder. Although this level of manipulation seems well beyond his ability to comprehend human psychology, even Jessica’s despite the link between them, at least we can say he shaped the outline if not the detail of what happened. Thus what might have seemed like a rousing stick-it-to-the-man ending becomes fairly ambiguous. As readers we’re predisposed to be sympathetic to Jessica’s stand, but when we realize that in doing so she’s adopting the values of the colonial power, suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Loran has made her into a William Wallace when humanity would be better served by a Mahatma Ghandi.

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  1. Interesting take on the story. Personally I found it to be very obvious, and if not for the interesting world building – and the decent writing – I doubt I would have kept reading. That said you’re take on the intent of the piece – that this particular elf was teaching the humans empowerment – is one I hadn’t thought of. I just thought he was proud of the woman he’d chosen

  2. When you say obvious I assume you mean the second half? I thought the first half had a good balance of show versus imply in both its world building and Loran’s narration. The danger of showing the same scenes through different eyes is that unless the other viewpoint is incredibly different it’s a little boring. Jessica was different, but in a very predictable way, so that only a few paragraphs into her section I could guess she would kill Loran at the end with the dagger. Still, at this length I felt it was OK for the story to let itself be carried by the ideas.

  3. […] Comments “Stereogram of… on Short Story Club 2Richard Morgan on The Dervish HousePatrick H on Short Story Club: […]

  4. I liked it as well. It started out with so many adjectives in that first paragraph that I was getting concerned that someone wasn’t going to get anything except scene description done in a short story, but it rapidly turned around and I agree with your “show versus imply” comment.

    I wasn’t quite sure what the Left and Right sections were. I got that the story was told from their respective viewpoints, but were they supposed to have understood each other’s entire story by looking at the painting? If so, maybe that’s why she felt the need to kill him? Or, do you think she had been planning it the whole time? Planning to look flustered at the vendors and buying a dagger?

  5. The moment when she gets the dagger from his perspective – even though he makes nothing of it – I knew where this story was heading. I was actually hoping he’d surprise me and do it differently.

  6. Three years late to the party, but I agree with Ian’s comment.

    Other than that I liked it. I think that without Loran’s viewpoint the reader would be left in the dark about why he was so happy to die. Although the elves’ desire for conflict/competition is mentioned in Jessica’s section it’s mostly developed in the first half.

    I enjoyed the references to fay mythology: the iron embedded in the roads, the casual cruelty, etc. I wish more had been said about the sudden loss of technology when the elves arrived. Without any real explanation it seemed arbitrary.


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