Always by Fowler, Karen Joy, 2007

Always by Fowler, Karen Joy

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Karen Joy Fowler is a new author for me. I see that she has a pretty extensive back catalog of fantasy looking titles, but up until I found this story on line, I had never read a word by her. Always is a Nebula Award winner, but its one of those stories that left me scratching my head after I read it: "How did this half-baked thing win an award?" I asked myself. And no, I do not mean that pejoratively. I mean merely that it does not feel complete; as if broad swaths of it had been removed to pare it down to short story length.

This is the story of a cult that started in the Depression Era central coast region of California. Brother Porter, the leader of the cult, had learned a way to keep people young forever. But rather than bottle and package his procedure, he started a commune in the middle of nowhere, and built a city that he called "Always." It was an atypical cult, in that members could leave when they wanted to, but in exchange for residency Brother Porter demanded that you give all of your assets and toys to him, and that the women be available for sex whenever he wanted. The main character, an unnamed woman, bought a bed in Always when she was seventeen, moved in and became immortal.

The story is partly about mainly the changes what an individual will go through, mainly in worldview, once he or she becomes immortal. Once the main character became an immortal she forgot the concerns of those who would die.

When I first came to Always, there were six Erle Standly Gardner mysteries in the women's dormitory that used to belong to Maddie. I read them all several times. But I wasn't reading anymore and certainly not murder mysteries. I'd even stopped liking music. I'd always supposed that art was about beauty and that beauty was forever. Now I saw that music was all about time. You take a photograph and it's all about that moment and how that moment will never come again. You go into a library and every book on the shelves is all about death, even the ones pretending to be about birth or rebirth or resurrection or reincarnation.

But it is also about faith, because the immortality process, whatever it was, was made possible only if the person receiving it had faith in Brother Porter. The story wound down when one of the cultists poisoned Brother Porter to reaffirm her faith in his immortality, but he died.

I say that this story is half-baked because there were so many holes in it, though what we did get was pretty interesting. For example, how did the immortality process work? How was it applied? Why did Brother Porter lose his faith? Questions such as those must be answered before a story can be said to be finished, I think. Stories like this I think are ripe for development into novels. I'm not a fan of Fowler's works, so perhaps it was and I just do not know it. This one is available on-line, and it won a Nebula Award when it was published. Two stars out of five.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)


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