In honor of Mary Robinette Kowal's Campbell win, I wanted to write a little bit about one of her stories I've meant to read for the last year or so but for some reason never got around to: "Cerbo en Vitra ujo".
The story was originally published in the Summer 2006 issue of Apex Digest.
Sometimes when you read a story you should really take note of what the cover of the magazine says. See, right above the big word "Apex" are four smaller words: "Science Fiction and Horror". Somehow having those four words on the cover of Apex Digest simply did not register and I was not prepared for "Cerbo en Vitra ujo". The story is science fiction and it is horror.
Grete is about to lose her boyfriend / brother / lover. The story is not clear as to what exactly Kaj is to Grete. Kaj is an illegitimate child and in this science fiction setting, illigits have to struggle to earn scholarships to go to school. Kaj was fortunate enough to win one and Grete will miss Kaj deeply. My initial thought was brother, but I think the story intends boyfriend / lover.
There is mention early on about body harvesting, but that Grete's Station doesn't have truck with that, so we briefly put it out of mind.
Kaj never contacts Grete after leaving for school so Grete attempts to find him without letting her mother know, as Grete's mother does not support Grete's relationship with Kaj. This is where the story turns dark.
"Cerbo en Vitra ujo" turns downright disturbing and nasty and it doesn't get better (better in terms of good things happening, not in terms of quality). Yet, the more disturbing the story gets, the more impressive it is. Kowal does the horror of "Cerbo en Vitra ujo" quite well. Yes, once the body harvesting is introduced we have a good idea where the story is going but it doesn't matter. Kowal is good enough to take the expectation of what Grete will find, deliver it, and have it not matter.
My reviews of other Kowal stories:
"The Bound Man"
"Rampion" (well, just a brief line or two as part of the Prime Codex anthology)
"The Clockwork Chickadee"
To read some of Kowal's stories, go here. Kowal has made quite a few available.