Friday, September 2, 2011
Novelette by Gray Rineheart
After his parents die, poor cranium-deformed Joey is sold to a 1940s-era freak show by his uncle. On display for his misshapen skull, no one realizes the two more significant freakish things about him: Joey is a mathematical genius, and he can read minds.
But reading minds hurts terribly, and the only way he can keep the pain at bay is by solving complicated equations and developing mathematical models in his head. One day Joey tries to leave the circus and go to a baseball game for his birthday, where he learns an entirely new kind of math.
Despite the mathematical focus, this story is very character driven, following an abused youth who just wants to be normal, but at the same time is learning to embrace being a freak, in one form or another. I'm glad the telepathy is mostly treated as a disability, with the math being the real superpower. That's psychic power I can get behind!
The ending is extremely ambiguous, possibly too much so for some readers, but thinking about which ending I'd have chosen makes me realize exactly how many plusses and minuses there are to Joey's choice. I know what I'd have done, personally, but it isn't what I think Joey probably did. The neat thing is that neither choice is an entirely happy ending, but both have upsides, too. So I'm glad it was left ambiguous, although the last line makes it a tad more confusing than is necessary, that is my only complaint about the whole story.
4 atomic fastballs out of 5.