Thursday, July 07, 2011

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: The Hanged Poet by Jeffrey Lyman

Hanged Poet art by Nicole CardiffMy story recommendation of the week is for "The Hanged Poet" from the June 2011 issue of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show. I am deeply biased on this one, since Jeff Lyman was one of my fellow winners of this year's Writers of the Future Contest, but this story is far too good for me not to recommend. Anyway, it's most appropriate for Jeff to get a recommendation from a fellow WOTF winner, since the entire June issue of IGMS is made up of stories by former WOTF winners.

The protagonist of "The Hanged Poet" is General Veritas, a military leader who helped build an empire, but now has been unwillingly retired by the emperor. As he travels alone to the nearly-forgotten homeland of his youth, he comes across the body of a hanged woman:
She was a young woman, small, pale-skinned as all northlanders were, and long dead. A weathered shift of gray wool hung down from her shoulders. Her hands had been bound behind her back, and her bare feet dangled at the height of his chest. The toes the dogs had not worried over were black with frost. . . .

She swung slowly after the dogs' last attentions, and her rope creaked. He would cut her down to keep the noise from bothering him while he slept.

"May I share your tree tonight?" he said, then joked, "Maybe later I'll hang myself beside you."

Her eyes snapped open, eyes washed-out blue like the winter sky. Veritas leapt back, stumbling on a branch beneath the snow.

"I wouldn't mind some company," she said in a dry voice, like leaves skirling across cobblestones. "But I don't think you want to rest up here. It's going to get cold when the sun sets."
The hanged woman is a long-dead poet, in a world where poems can effect powerful changes. General Veritas has already had poetry greatly change his life, and the hanged poet promises at least one more alteration to come.

The tale is told mostly through dialogue between the two characters, exquisitely written dialogue that gradually reveals the characters' fascinating and cleverly interrelated backstories. This is a story in which almost nothing happens onstage, and yet Lyman manages to make it all feel dramatic and satisfying. Outstanding work!


Mac Campbell said...

Crap, this sounds chilling and good. The words leapt up from the page. The dryness, the cold. Good reviewing too.
-Mac Campbell

Aaron Hughes said...

Yes, the whole story is like that -- check it out!