My previous experience with M.R. Kowal’s writing has been through her Glamourists’ series, novels set in an alternate Regency era where magic (or glamour) allows skilled people to weave long-lasting illusions literally out of thin air, and the characters move in a genteel, refined world where even hard reality is viewed through a sort of filter. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that this story is steeped in harsh realism and based on terrible choices…
(click on the link to read the story online)
Julius is a famous cellist, a performer of world renown, but an unspecified accident deprived him of his left hand – a tragedy of terrible proportions for someone like him. It’s been two weeks since the amputation, and Julius is still struggling with its aftermath, the phantom pains in the missing hand and, worse still, the end of his career. At home his wife Cheri is dealing with problems of her own: after a number of miscarriages, her current pregnancy seems to be moving along well, and despite the trepidation due to past experiences she’s looking forward to the arrival of their baby, especially since it might offer Julius a new perspective in life.
When Julius is contacted by his agent Leonard, he faces the meeting with barely contained rage and scorn, because the end of his days as a cello performer colors his every interaction with the world, but Leonard has some amazing news for him: there is a possibility of re-growing his hand. It’s an outlawed procedure, one that can be carried out only in countries where it’s not been banned, and consists in the graft of a blastema bud. The only catch in the whole scenario is that the grafted tissue must be compatible with the receiver, which means that only an embryo containing Julius’ DNA will be viable for the blastema bud.
And there is only one place where that will have to come from….
As I said, this disturbing little story of impossible choices was an amazing surprise in light of what I considered Ms. Kowal’s style: clearly she has many more arrows in her quiver than I could imagine, and that makes me appreciate her and her writing even more. Even if this short story chilled me to the bone.