Saturday, May 09, 2015

Review: “The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt Translator

Review: “The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt Translator (Lightspeed Magazine, April 2014)

Spoilers. I'm going to discuss the beginning, middle and end. If you want to remain unspoiled, read it first.

This is a non-Sad Puppy nomination.  It's a translated work.

I'm not familiar with the original language and its idioms, but it reads exactly as if the writer's long term relationship broke up and he said to a friend, "My world has turned upside down!" and the friend replied, "She's not coming back. You have to let go," and he thought, "Hey, I can make a story out of those phrases!" Because that's it: He's lost his girl, the world turns upside down, and he's told he has to let go.

I've seen a few reviews of this one already, and they all mention that the protagonist of the story is a thoroughly unlikeable, self-centered git, and also that you can't keep a goldfish in soda pop when you run out of water. So take it as read that both of these things are true.

In the story, gravity reverses itself and no one knows why, but it's speculated that the Earth just got fed up. Many people died as they hit their ceilings; planes and satellites dropped away into space. Some things aren't quite as affected by the reversal which has led to some reviewers saying the story is inconsistent in its 'physics'. I say eeeehhhh so what.  In a world where gravity can turn upside down, physics has pretty much had it anyway. Also, I remember reading a story a long, long time ago, probably in Fantasy & Science Fiction in the 60's, where gravity reversed for just one person. His neighbors watch dumbfounded as he clutches at a tree screaming that it would be such a long way to fall. They try to pry him away from the tree, and he loses his grip, eventually falling up and away with his hands still clutching twigs and leaves, dwindling into the sky. I can't remember the author or the title, but the story stuck with me for fifty years, so I'll give another one of its ilk a chance.

In summary, the protagonist's girlfriend has broken off their relationship, and boy is he pissed. He's not a nice man and isn't very polite about it. She says she's coming to pick up her goldfish the next day, but by the time next day rolls around, everything's upside down. The man saves the goldfish, letting a nearby woman fall to her presumed death as he does so, and sets off, hand over hand on anything that will tether him, to get the fish back to his ex.  On the way, he meets two old ladies with saints' names who are spinning flax – which I think is a clue that we're not in the world of physics, but fairy tales here – and they tell him to let go. They themselves are planning to join the "falling stars" – people who have fallen off the earth.  He finds his ex – she's injured, and he learns she had a new boyfriend. Had – he died in the reversal. She doesn't want our man back, even though he's gone through hell to bring her the goldfish, and he throws a jealous fit. He's still not a nice man. He finally does let go – he lets Bubbles the fish go free in a lake, and realizes as he looks up at his reflection in the water that the world *is* the right way up. He's just looking at it the wrong way round. He goes back to the old ladies' now-empty place and climbs down their flaxen thread, into the sky.

This is a lovely story and is rich with metaphorical language and evocative descriptions, for which we can surely thank both the writer and the translator.

Sample quote: "Scientists lucky enough to survive the event said that it wasn’t so much that gravity had disappeared, but that it had flipped over, as if our planet had suddenly lost all of its mass and was surrounded by some colossal object. Religious people, unlucky enough to survive the miracle, said that life was give and take, and that God was now, after so many years of giving, finally taking. But there was no colossal object, and being taken by God is a dubious given."

It's a shame our man is such a shit but it takes all kinds. It's worth reading, maybe even worth a Hugo. We'll see how the others shake out.

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