Weeding Womb

Radiant Doors

Radiant Doors by Michael Swanwick. I'll be blunt. Were my grip on reality rather weak, I'd be dead now. This is fiction so depressing it makes you want to slit your wrists or build a nuke, depending on general disposition.

Quite simply: 'Radiant Doors', temporal gateways, are opening and horribly abused refugees are pouring through. Apparently in the future the many get disfigured and mangled for the sexual and non-sexual entertainment of the governmental elite.

It's depressing, sure, but by the end of the story it becomes obvious that the future isn't set in stone - there's a chance it could all be changed. But by that point in the story the bad guys have already gained a major advantage. Yay. If the future were inevitable, then the story would just be depressing. But don't throw me a bone and then cover it in cyanide. This is a pit of despair into which all the characters are thrown. It's a testament to either my iron will or my corrupt soul that I could read this story over dinner and not lose my appetite. There's little outright gore, but this guy is cramming the atrocities of a trans-temporal Holocaust into about twenty pages.

A complaint about the characters: There's not one good person amongst them. Everyone is evil to the core (and fighting amongst themselves), except the main character who's just a half-psychotic sadomasochist with questionable ethics and several strange sexual practices.

That's another complaint: No one here can have normal sex and be done with it. Twenty pages and the two overt and uncountable implied sex acts are all strange. The very least include sadism and taking a device that was used to torture a young girl and her family and using it as a sex aid, the worst aren't the sort of thing I can speak of without gagging.

What's the plot? Does it really matter? Well, I guess it does. You know the refugees of the dark land run by Owners (as they're called)? One of 'em gives the main character a device that turns people into unwilling slaves. Then you spend the rest of the story watching people do depraved things and fight over this device (which is a plant meant to give the present government a taste of what it's like to be an Owner).

First the main character decides to keep it and not turn it in (realizing and fearing its true purpose), then an Owner from the future tries to get it and force the main character to turn it in, as was planned, then a person from the present kills the Owner and... turns the object in. Why? Because he is part of the already-corrupt present day government and this is the thing they need to create the Owner/slave society.

This is where it all falls apart. Not only is it depressing, it makes no sense. This whole time-travel thing, while a needed plot element, starts to unravel the whole mess. However, the would-be Owner's own comments rip it apart. He claims that the government has spies in the future, and that they know a lot about what's going on.

So: Why did he kill one of the future Owners when she was fulfilling his plan? Indeed, when she was likely one of his own descendants? So he can have more power to himself? That doesn't make any sense! Considering the way he killed her (imagine Hitler walking unguarded through a death camp, and someone shouting 'Hey, it's Hitler!'), it's not like he couldn't have done it, say, the next day. And if it was because he wanted to deliver the device personally, why didn't he kill the main character while she had it? He was her S&M partner, so it's not like beating her to death would be that hard. And if everyone can time-travel back and forth without changing the future, why aren't the future Owners opening 'radiant doors' further back (even if they have to do it in two steps, future to present then present to past), where there'll be no resistance at all? For that matter, why isn't the evil present-day government (who've obviously gleaned the radiant door technology from the refugees) doing that?

How can the future be mutable and yet a 10-million person influx of people carrying obscenely advanced technology not change anything? It doesn't make sense, except if you figure this was the only way to show off the fine points of the plot.

Oh, yes. Do you know my comment about evil vs. evil in fiction? While I don't take it back, I'd like to amend it. Evil vs. evil is still plausible in fiction, but it helps if both sides aren't absolutely identical, and one of the evils (or both) have some saving grace that makes them easier to identify with.

Which is the problem here: Both sides aren't just evil, they're identical in everything but the thousands-digit on their birth certificate. So it's not evil vs. evil, it's just evil vs. itself with evil refugee bystanders and some insane but not-that-evil people mixed in as a feeble attempt at reader identification.

Not recommended. Go read 1984 if you want to see a depressing dystopia filled with only false hope. It's a bigger time investment, and a (slightly!) bigger letdown, but at least there's some continuity and you can look at it as a classic example of satire. Unlike this story.

The Archon

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