“Stereogram of the Grey Fort, in the Days of Her Glory” by Paul BergerNovember 14, 2010 at 12:01 am | Posted in Short Stories | 6 Comments
Tags: Paul Berger
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.