REVIEW: “Untilted” by K. A. Teryna

Review of K. A. Teryna, “Untilted”, Apex Magazine 102: Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

This is an intriguing bite of the slightly surreal, translated from Russian. It begins with a strangely written letter, full of deliberate misspellings and random asides. We quickly learn that the note (and the boy who wrote it — Marcus) are more than they seem. He gives the note to a stranger, a woman named Dahlia, and claims it is a contract. We only find out what the contract is about slowly, as the night progresses, growing ever stranger and more nonsensical.

While this isn’t a strongly “fantasy” story, it is every bit as weird as one. Because the tone is so sensible, and the world so very much our own, the strangeness stands out in stark contrast, even if most of the oddness could be explained as the actions of an imaginative child. This is the opposite of the traditional fantasy or science fiction story, where the narrative has to convince us that wizards or faster than light travel are not only possible, but plausible. It’s even different from that type of story where the main character discovers that the world is full of secret magic. There’s no curtain drawn back to reveal a hidden world, just a constant reminder that this child — Marcus — is behaving very strangely. And when he turns out to have access to real magic, that’s probably the most normal thing to happen in the whole story.

Marcus and the Dahlia take turns narrating, sharing quick spurts of both the present narrative and their pasts. There’s a mixture of wisdom and naivete to be found in both of them, which is the source of much of the story’s charm. Though it delves into heavy themes — mostly coping with grief — it never becomes heavy or self-important.