Weeding Womb

The Tale of the Golden Eagle

The Tale of the Golden Eagle by David D. Levine. Text available online.. Rez, he of this rebuttal to one of my reviews, sent me a link to a site listing free SF online. So I decided to review one of the stories there. It's a love story about a poor man who is desperate to maintain his facade of wealth, and winds up with a humanoid robot (seemingly unique) named Nerissa Zeebnen-Fearsig in his possession. He winds up caught between his grand plans to turn Nerissa into a profit machine, and his growing unwillingness to force Nerissa to do something that will harm her. He finds a neat way out of the dilemma, though.

But first, a word. I, due to an incorrect link on the site that hosts the story, started on the second page. (Check the link to page one - it really goes right back to page 2.) After realizing this, I went back and read page one.

And found I didn't miss much.

Now, that's perhaps a bit harsh. But, other than a few small items in the first part (like, as the narrator calls it, "the first of three decisions that shaped the rest of his life and set a legend in motion"), there's very little that ties directly into part 2. Almost everything the reader really needs to know, like the state of the main character's wealth and how he acquires the robot, can be inferred from context. Stories have asked me to hit the ground running before, so I thought little of it until I realized my error.

But the fact remains that part one is little more than backstory - albeit interesting backstory - on Nerissa's creation, and how her new owner acquired her. That they only meet in part 2 is rather telling. Even if most of the story is one series of events, the actual interaction and such doesn't happen until part two.

The end of part one is a suspenseful super-complex poker-esque game - the author artfully avoids Greg Egan's sin (in Border Guards) of bogging down in the details of this math-intensive game - but I didn't find it very suspenseful at all. Perhaps it was because I already knew the outcome from part two, but I doubt it. If the outcome turned out differently, the story would have pretty much ended there, and the text made it obvious which outcome was needed.

(Think about it - almost every critical gamble in fiction has a predestined result. If the player were to lose when he needs a win to continue the story, he'd wind up destitute and possibly meet an uglier fate, if the money was to be paid to some Shadowy Power. End of story. If winning would make him stop everything and live off his winnings for the rest of his life, it's a sure bet he'll lose if there's more than five pages left.)

Still, part two was enjoyable. Were I any sharper-witted, I'd have seen the way out of his dilemma myself, but I didn't. The story gets a pass for snookering me about the final outcome and a suspicious glare for making the card game outcome a touch too obvious.

The entire story is related to the reader in the style of some older tale-spinner telling a yarn to a younger audience. While it was occasionally hyperbolic, my 'inner voice' slipped a bit into John Hurt's Storyteller character from the excellent series The Jim Henson Hour, so perhaps the storytelling narration is just hyperbolic enough to fit the narrator's 'character'.

But it's a good read - from the beginning - if you don't mind the card game melodrama and the narration. And it's free, at least for the time being.

The Archon

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