REVIEW: “I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land” by Connie Willis

Review of Connie Willis, “I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land”, Asimov’s Science Fiction November/December (2017): 168-197 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

I have to find Ozymandias’s first. It’s here someplace, on one of these endless, look-alike streets. It has to be.
Because otherwise all those endless shelves of books – all those histories and plays and adventures and sentimental novels and textbooks and teen star biographies are gone. And whatever fascinating or affecting or profound things were in them are as lost to us as that vanished kingdom of Ozymandias’s. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair indeed.

Jim is on a book publicity tour, based on his successful blog “Gone for Good” where he advocates for an end to nostalgia for things that no longer have a use disappearing: VHS tapes, payphones, telegrams. In Jim’s view, things being surpassed by better things and therefore being lost is part of the natural order of things. That is, until he stumbles into Ozymandius Books. Describing beyond this point would be giving away what makes this story special. This is a classic story of a protagonist falling into a strange world and then returning, not the same as they were when they started. Describing that world is the story and it’s done wonderfully here.

This novella was probably my favourite story this issue. It’s a lovely read for its own sake, but I enjoyed pausing while I read this to think about the questions it was raising: about the inherent value of books, whether updated knowledge invalidates the usefulness of the previous, and whether a book or a story loses its value when society moves away from it. At it’s core though, I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land asks two questions: Where does the last copy go? And does anyone care about it?

This story is necessarily a bit literary in tone and theme – being a meta-consideration of books and literature and their importance – but Willis’ narrative pacing and descriptions of Ozymandius were great and kept it from becoming too navel-gazey.