Review of Andy Dudak, “Midstrathe Exploding”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2020): 101–105 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.
A bomb with unusual temporal effects has exploded in Midstrathe, and for the last 200 years, it has been slowly engulfing the city with its expanding wave-front. Everything caught within it slows down to an almost absolute stop. Ciaran, a 14 year-old orphan, works for a rogue organization that leads over-eager “tourists” near the wave-front. One day he has to escort one such tourist — an old woman — near the wave-front. When they arrive, the old woman surprises Ciaran by going past the safety line and entering the wave-front despite his warnings not to. This is against the rules, but Ciaran finds himself unable to stop her. She goes through the bubble, leaving Ciaran with no choice but to skip town.
“Midstrathe Exploding” has one of the most original science fiction premises that I’ve read in a while. Aside from the use of a “time-bomb” as an Armageddon device — a uniquely ingenious idea in itself — this story shows a fascinating view of how a society would adapt to such an unusual catastrophic event. Dudak’s evocative prose goes a long way into bringing the strange melancholy of his setting into life, even if his intentional vagueness makes the plot a bit hard to follow. There’s a lot to digest here, especially since the author uses a litany of new terms that can throw the reader off (click-chance, scrip, Dyads, temporal normalization, etc.). It is the kind of story that almost certainly requires a second reading, though not one that necessarily rewards it. While I thoroughly enjoyed the world that the author has created even upon multiple readings, I can easily see certain readers feeling disappointed at the rather lackluster plot. It would be interesting to see the author revisit the setting with a more expanded story.
Overall, I recommend this story. Like much of science fiction, “Midstrathe Exploding” may not be for everyone, but it is worth a try, if only for its richly unique and inspired premise.