Short Story Review: THE ATONEMENT TANGO, by Stephen Leigh
My search for interesting short stories (and a quick sample of authors who are new to me) continues… I have recently discovered the dedicated section over at Tor.com, and found many interesting offerings. This week’s choice is for:
This story is part of the WILD CARDS series, a collection of tales and novels set in an alternate reality, one where shortly after the end of WWII an alien virus was released in the atmosphere: of all those affected who did not die outright, some transformed into Aces – people with superhuman powers – and other into Jokers, people with weird abilities and/or equally weird body modifications, not a few of these taking the victims far away from the human norm.
Joker Plague is a band of bizarre, music-loving Jokers: Michael, or Drummer Boy, with tympanic membranes across his torso and endowed with six arms; Bottom, the donkey-headed guitarist; keyboard player S’Live, who looks like a floating balloon; and the Voice, the invisible vocalist. They are playing in front of a less-than-enthusiastic audience, since their glory days are long gone and the new songs don’t encounter the public’s favor, but still they care about music and what it can give them. Suddenly a series of explosions tears through the band and those nearest the podium, and once Drummer Boy Michael wakes up in a hospital, his drum membranes are lacerated, both his legs are fractured and one of his arms gone; what’s worse, he learns that only he and Bottom survived, while several bystanders were killed alongside the rest of the band. Once he’s one the road to recovery, Drummer Boy launches in the search for the bomber, someone who clearly holds a great deal of hate for the Jokers…
What’s fascinating in this story – apart from the concept of the virus itself and the way it affected humanity – is the wide, sometimes terrifying variety of the Jokers, and the way they try to integrate their diversity in the midst of society – a society that after what seems a long time after the initial incident, still looks on them with scorn, if not outright hate. In the city where Michael lives – and probably in every city in the world – there is an enclave called Jokertown, with its own police precinct and different venues catering to the Jokers: it’s not difficult to think of the word “ghetto” while witnessing the segregation between the “nats” (those that remained unchanged) and the mutated individuals, and even people with means, like Michael, still linger at the margins of society.
Drummer Boy’s search for the person responsible for the attack becomes therefore a tour into this reality, with its many shadows and a very few rays of light, and the truth about the concert bombing reveals a quite unexpected – and disheartening – side of the situation. Still, this short story piqued my curiosity about this series and I will certainly love to know more, not so much about the Aces (after all there is an overabundance of super-heroes these days) but rather about the Jokers and their world.