The reason I read short stories is to read stories like this one. From start to finish, I was enthralled. D’Amico’s tale of Fex, a man exiled from his desert city after an altercation with an elder leads to the destruction of precious water-providing plants, takes a completely unexpected turn when an earthquake hits and Fex slips through the cracks and falls down into a world utterly unlike any he has ever known. It is a classic quest tale, with a charge being laid upon Fex to repair the broken shard that has resulted in the atmospheric imbalance that has dried up his city and made them so dependent on their iviia plants for water. In the course of discharging this obligation, Fex learns that the scope of his world is far greater than he could ever have imagined.
From the start, D’Amico’s carefully chosen words drive home the desperation of life in a desert, and how precarious any desert civilization is. But when Fex visits a far away land that is drowning in damp and threatened by tsunami, D’Amico is able to make that land, too, dangerous and desperate. Reading the story, I was reminded of one of my favorite Genesis lines — “Within the valley of shadowless death, they pray for thunderclouds and rain. But to the multitudes who stand in the rain, heaven is where the sun shines” (“Mad Man Moon”, Trick of the Tale).
This story is one of the longer ones in the anthology, and worth every word of it. One of my beefs with short stories is that they often feel like they could have been much longer, and the ones I really enjoy I often wish were much longer, because they are read all too quickly. This story felt entirely complete in itself, leaving the reader satisfied and delighted when they finish it.