Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Two Thieves

Novelette by Chris Beckett

The titular two thieves, Pennyworth and Shoe are sent to Australia Last Resort, a penal colony where they get a decent, if boring, life and manage to get on the cushiest work detail. A bit of worldbuilding implies a sufficiently advanced society has fallen to become the lower-tech one we see in the story, but the technology justification actually makes less sense than magic to me here.

Anyway, they discover a bottomless pit of nothingness, blindly jump through it despite radiation and possible death good thing it turns out to have been a portal that still functions. The pair find some riches, and supposedly halfway learn a lesson about greed, although general prudence would be a step up.

These two imbeciles are so aggressively stupid and irrational it makes it impossible for me to sympathize. Part of it is that I can rarely sympathize properly with characters who are too dumb to live, and part is that this sort of behavior seems like it would be hard for them to be effective thieves. It seems at times like this wants to be comedic, which would forgive some of the above commentary (well not quite here, but it conceivably could), but the problem is it just isn't funny. I mean I'd have trouble accepting this plot as a comic plot too, but there seemed very little humor, besides one bit about anal gem smuggling. And it tries far too hard to drive the moral of the story home.

Finally, I couldn't stand the writing. It almost wanted to make me go back and look at some of Beckett's other stuff to see whether this was experimental. It hasn't ever leapt out at me before, so I think it was something different about his writing in this story. But it was just annoying this time around. Beyond the abundance of telling and minimal showing, there are lots of little long-winded asides in the narration. I get the impression they are supposed to be clever but they come across as cutesy and obnoxious. He may be trying to do Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser or something, but this pair have none of the charm or cunning and Beckett's writing has none of the wit or pacing. I'm growing rather sick of pulp tributes in Asimov's, but I'm not docking points for it yet...

1.5 thieves out of 5, or 0.6 out of 2.

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