Review: “The Abduction of Europa” by E. Catherine Tobler (Clarkesworld #112)

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(Read the story here!) This review assumes you have already read it, so please do check it out before reading on.

About the Author:

E. Catherine Tobler is, like Tuesday’s author, another tried-and-tested writer of professional standards. A quick look at her website reveals an impressive bibliography of work that stretches across at least a decade – so we can expect another short story of a high calibre, as we are used to with Clarkesworld publications.

Positives:

I enjoyed this story more than Tuesday’s, I can’t deny it. Like Tuesday’s, it is also a good example of how a simple plot structure can be applied to create a unique and driving story. In this case, the plot ‘framework’ is the Journey: there is a main character (or two, in this story, Bolaji and Kotto), who is striving for a particular goal – in this story, the goal is to return to Thrace Terminal.

Unlike Tuesday’s story, however, I think Catherine does a better job of introducing conflict and a desire in the reader to carry on reading. She does this through subtle exposition – for example, the casual mention in the text of having to leave Marius behind, and returning back to Thrace Terminal without him. This makes us wonder what went wrong, and we read on to find out.

The worldbuilding comes into this, too, mentioned but never outright explained, which is the best way to do worldbuilding in short stories. We get references to icecats, Europa, Galileo Station, deep space exploration, etc. These all help to set the story in a certain frame/context without disrupting the reader’s enjoyment of the story.

And, of course, the chilling ending. I wasn’t expecting that, and it was great. (You have read it, haven’t you?) A great combination of the supernatural and the scientific, and well-executed. Dark, haunting, beautiful.

Negatives:

The negatives. The negatives. One thing that I picked up on was the change of voice between Bolaji and Kotto’s first sections. While a change of voice makes sense when switching between two characters, I think Catherine tried too much here to make the characters different, or maybe Kotto came out a bit too strongly in the first draft and Catherine didn’t revise it back down in a re-read. Either way, her first paragraphs are too fractured and directionless, and the extensive swearing draws the reader out of the story, in my opinion. Swearing is a surprisingly difficult thing to pull off in fiction, and I think it could easily have been trimmed down here to make the swear words remaining that much more effective. They are naturally eye-catching, so too many and it pulls the reader’s attention away from the story and to the words themselves.

Other than that, gold. Enjoyable, easy to read, pacey, fun. A very solid story, and I hope you agree with me.

On Tuesday I will review the next story in Clarkesworld #112: “Extraction Request” by Rich Larson, so don’t miss that!

(Image from www.clarkesworldmagazine.com)

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