REVIEW: "Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach" by Kelly Robson
If you haven't already dipped into the rich, deep waters of Tor.com's collection of novellas, you are seriously missing out. Not only have past novellas won serious accolades (and Imaginary Awards!) from us here on our podcast, but they seem to offer a unique liminal space within which authors of science fiction and fantasy can shuck some of the usual constraints and go after what interests them most, formally and in respect to subject, whether weird or wondrous or genre-defying.
Kelly Robson's Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach makes a fine addition to this new and wild little canon. On many levels, it might seem as though Robson has indeed pushed the envelope a little too far to support even the greatest suspension of disbelief, but there's something to respect, too, about a book which asks us to try a little harder—to understand, to relax into the unwinding. By this I'm referring to the first third or so of the novella, in which Minh builds a team and crunches the numbers necessary to finance a trip back into the past. The far distant past. As in, the Fertile Crescent during the dawn of civilization (in Western Asia, at least). This is a land of priestesses and princes, falconers and farmers, and yes—it's now the land of cephalopodian prostheses and future ecology experiments. This is a time-travel narrative which will hurt your brain with numbers, but not, you know, too many numbers.
The second third of this novella encompasses a couple of different things which threw me, at first. To begin with, Minh gathers the last few members of her team, and things stray perilously close to the found-family-in-science-fiction trope before completely upending the readers' expectations. Alliances are formed and broken, mentorships implode, and Minh is forced to come to terms with the fact that yes, she's kind of prickly, and no, that just being a prickly old-timer in a science fictional narrative does not entitle her to a happy ending with a neat and perfect little found family journeying through space or time to wear off those rough edges. (Firefly, you've ruined us forever. In a good way. Maybe.) Minh really has to work hard, and make some intentional decisions, to become the kind of person to whom others are instinctively loyal.
Oh, yeah, and their expedition to the past just falls to pieces. I mean, it really just implodes. Explodes. There are things which actually break, and violently. The final third of the novella deals with the fallout of Minh's decisions and how they intersect with a situation she can't remotely control. As the final act of a book which opens in a carefully tended peach grove, with Minh up a tree doing exactly what she wants to be doing, this messy flail of a conclusion was never inevitable but ended up creating the perfect counterpoint. I mean, we all know what it's like to have our lives fall apart on us, and this is as #relatable as it gets. While also, you know, being an absolutely surreal science fictional romp.
As an experiment in form and substance Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a resounding triumph. A full-blown success. It may not be a smooth and polished book, and it certainly has some rough spots when it comes to pacing, but there is so much to love here that I honestly feel it's a must-read for Spring 2018. Especially if you're an ecologist, or a geographer. Or an accountant with nefarious designs on the past/future.
As I said, #relatable.