An excellent story from McDonald.
It’s a clever conceit, expertly handled. The titular academic is able to provide a guide to life after death from what academic these days called ‘lived experience’. Although that’s probably not a great phrase for me to use, as the experience she has lived through is, in fact, death.
She is dead, and in McDonald’s story, ghosts are akin to tiny, unseen fireflies, flittering around where they have died, with no way to communicate with the living or impact on the world of the living – no sliding coins as per Patrick Swayze in ‘Ghost) (strange, but I can’t watch that film withough getting some grit in my eye – what’s that about??)
Lea has a story to tell, which features a very senior academic with whom she has an affair. The story unfolds and we find out more, much more about the affair and it’s consequences. And to add further richness, more ghosts are added to the story – victims of a mass shooting/suicide at the school.
The detailing in the story is excellent. Lea/McDonald shows compassion for the ghost of the mass murderer, and there are reveals every so often that keeps the reader engaged, and there is emotion aplenty. And this will be the first story of the year to go on the 2016 Best SF Short Story Award shortlist.
I’ve only read about half a dozen stories by Sandra McDonald over the past five years and they have all impressed. With somewhat more time for Best SF than for many years I may well be a bit more proactive, and actively seek out more stories by her, rather than relying on them making their way to me.
More from this issue here.