Journeys by Ian R. MacLeod a couple of months ago. Not all stories hit the bullseye for me but I definitely liked the way MacLeod experiments with short fiction. It contained some a varied bunch of stories but all with an interesting premise that MacLeod usually uses to the maximum and often a bit beyond. I'm planning to read one of his novels at some point, but since the book buying budget is a bit tight at the moment, that will have to wait. I did remember a story I picked up the story Recrossing the Styx on the SUVUDU website where it is still available for free in PDF format. It also appeared in the July/August issue of Fantasy& Science Fiction.
Recrossing the Styx is set in a future where death can be held at bay indefinitely if you can afford it. Frank Onions works on the cruise ship Glorious Nomad, where a number of supremely wealthy 'post-centenarians' live a life of luxury and relaxation. Frank's job is to be a tour guide on the excursions to the ancient (or recreated) treasures the Aegean has to offer. Frank detests his customers and thinks his life on board depressing. All of that changes when he meets Dottie however. She is the minder of one of the 'post-centenarians', married to the man she is taking care of. Dottie is not happy in her own role as minder and she has a plan that, if it succeeds, would allow both Frank and herself to escape.
As with some of the stories in Journeys, the story is a bit over the top in a way. Frank is disgusted by his clients, resulting in more than a few unflattering descriptions of them. Seen from his perspective, there is more than enough reason to wonder if dying might not be the better option. Then again, if you have enough money to spend your time on a permanent vacation, many people would disagree with Frank. MacLeod does a good job of conveying Frank's discontent anyway, and although he is not particularly sympathetic, one can't help but feel he has a point. His discontent makes him vulnerable though. It is quite apparent that Dottie's plan is not going to work out the way Frank imagines. The story needs a twist and MacLeod delivers on couldn't quite predict.
It is quite a creepy story really, with a title and setting that both echo Greek mythology. Recrossing the Styx, returning from death, carries a price, but the lengths people will go to, to achieve immortality knows no bounds. This story is equal parts dark, disturbing and horrific. Frank in the role of Orpheus, trying to rescue his beloved from the dead. The story has an ending tragic enough to appeal to the ancient Greeks. I guess like MacLeod's alternative histories better but there is no denying this is a good story. If you are looking for a taste of what MacLeod has to offer, Recrossing the Styx might be a good story to pick up.
Title: Recrossing the Styx
Author: Ian R. MacLeod
First published: 2010