REVIEW: “And No Torment Shall Touch Them” by James Patrick Kelly

Review of James Patrick Kelly, “And No Torment Shall Touch Them”, Asimov’s Science Fiction November/December (2017): 75-85 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

What happens when a loved one uploads themselves after death and hang around the family affairs afterwards like a bad smell?

We open with Carli’s Nonno interrupting his own, very formal and religious, funeral. Carli’s Nonno’s consciousness from just before he died has been uploaded and is able to manifest as a hologram at will to continue to observe and comment on his family’s lives and decisions. After a lifetime of running the family, Nonno’s uploaded ghost continues on to continue commenting. And he’s not restricted to observing only when he’s visible. He’s there, always, omnipotent – in some ways more controlling and present than in life.

The perspective shifts in this keep the pacing quick and allow the constraints that having Nonno around in perpetuity as they apply to each family member contrast and reveal themselves slowly. This is a story driven by layered internal conflicts – interpersonal, inter-generational, and individual. The religious and family themes here are deliberate and used effectively. The idea of consciousness uploading after death is not new, but the angle Kelly has chosen here of inter-generational family bonds and restrictions prevented from progressing in the natural order – some emerging and some breaking down – is very clever and took a second read for me to really appreciate.