REVIEW: "The Warrior Within" by Angus McIntyre
Tor.com blew me away with this, yet another stellar (heh heh) addition to its ever-expanding shelf novellas, set on a planet where the sun never rises, never sets, and never gives us an excuse to yawn with boredom. This is also Angus McIntyre's debut, which feels wrong, somehow; the world-weary voice of Karsman (and the many others who inhabit his mind) doesn't so much feel like it's been adopted for the moment as it does a fixed feature of this nightless waste, populated by people who never stop moving, who never stop traveling the road. The road which marks, presumably, the Goldilocks line of a Goldilocks planet tidally locked to its star.
Along this road lie two things, one permanent, one transient. The permanent features are the ruins, left by an ancient race long gone, their leavings a form of sustenance for the people left behind, who daily swarm the towers and eke a living off of turning the ruins into a scrapyard. The transient features are the cities, the wheeled temples, which house these hardy few and their overlords (overpriests?) the Muljaddy. There are echoes of Buddhist tropes here—beware—but they are twisted, as all things are on this planet, by the everyday wrongs of the powerful. Turn a prayer wheel and earn your breakfast. Turn your back and risk death by an unknown hand.
Karsman is the riddle, the enigma. You might think you know him, and his loves, and why he does what he does, but you don't, not really. Because he's not always himself. In fact, his selves are numerous and complicated, and dance in and out as situations call for them, often without consent or Karsman's constant knowledge. You might think the woman he loves is another enigma, but don't be fooled: the things which are seemingly obvious are constantly shifting underfoot, and maps through this book and Karsman's experience are only every going to fail you. In pleasurable ways, as a reader.
And look, I'm by and large impatient with science fiction centering on straight men. But remember what I just said about the seemingly obvious? There are many ways to read Karsman, and some of them are as queer and delightfully weird as my little queer heart could hope for. The others, well. I can tolerate a romance every now and again with equanimity. (After all, I didn't endure North and South and every damn Jane Austen adaptation out there repeatedly. I savored, even as I suffered.)
Much of my love for this novella lies with the language. McIntyre has a deft hand with description, and verbs, and pacing. This is a little slice, a little taste, of a whole world, and it never feels like it's not enough. It feels, appropriately, like Goldilock's bed. And it's a bed I'm willing to make and lie in for a long time, indeed.