Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Language of the Whirlwind

Short Story by Lavie Tidhar
Text and Audio on Clarkesworld, narrated by Kate Baker

A story about religious belief, both some people's need for it, and it's potential futility in the face of real disaster. Tel Aviv (and probably the rest of the world) has been destroyed, when a giant mountain rose in the center of the city, strange whirlwinds came from the sea and killed thousands of people, and a giant black wall trapped the survivors within the decimated metropolis.

Strange, powerful beings I take to be aliens are living on top of the mountain, and our main character, The Priest, thinks they are gods. To explain the devastation to himself, he's created a complicated mythology and is writing a Holy Book. He expects a fireman who was taken by the aliens to return as a prophet and savior, and the Priest has created a small congregation out of the people breeding and eating rats in the wreckage of Tel Aviv.

A constantly whistling little boy follows him, and the Priest thinks the whistling might be the language of the whirlwinds, that the boy might be able to communicate with them, and is protected by them. But after witnessing further horrible events, the Priest is left wondering how it fits into his new religion, why he believes what he does, and why would his gods do what they do?

"I pray for salvation. Yet what sort of salvation could a Fireman bring?"

The story asks a lot of questions, and leaves them all unanswered. Chief among them is "Why?" Why would powerful beings do what they do? Why do we believe what we believe? And all this is backed up by a fairly standard, yet hauntingly described post-apocalyptic setting. Still, I didn't love this story. The characters were poorly explained and generic, even the priest didn't have the depth of crazy I'd have liked. We didn't get to see where his religion came from, and I'm still confused about some factual details of the whirlwinds, things the character observed . The conclusion is dark and haunting, but feels a bit like a trick. We are lead to believe things which aren't true, fair enough, but the heads exploding just sort of took me out of the story. Not bad, and well written, but not enough detail to truly draw me in. Or perhaps just the wrong details. Frankly, the story was a bit boring as well, it felt like it took longer to listen to and read than it did. 3 whistling whirlwinds out of 5.

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