Short Story Review: “Beyond the Turning Orrery” by Deborah Walker

5 of 5 stars.

A breathtakingly complex tale comes in a little package of 9 pages. Entire cosmological, philosophical and cultural systems are explained and rebuked in this masterful story told from a deeply compromised narrator. It is highly recommended.

Geoffrey, an elderly Maestro of a monastery, recounts his two previous sins in life on the cusp of creating his third. With much conflict, the sins profoundly challenge his conservative world views while drawing on his culture’s mythology.

His first sin starts as he allows himself to be led outside for his first time by his dreamer friend, Dominique:

Outside the Tin City, the cogs that move the world are close to the surface. Outside you can hear the very turning of the machine.

. . . We lay on our backs for a time, watching the planets moving smoothly along their celestial wires. The unnamed clusters of small blue stars weaved along their spiral pathways . . .

Admittedly, as I first read this section, I thought it was merely a beautifully metaphoric description of the world. But, no, this is a deeply held literal worldview with steampunk elements.

I picked a copper cricket out of the grass, and held it to my ears listening to the small tick of its tiny internal springs.

“If we’re wound, who winds us?” asked Dom.

I touched his chest. “How can you deny that?” I thumped his chest a little harder. I was afraid for him, and that made me scared.

Geoffrey’s 2nd and 3rd sins happen late in life, after a lifetime of atoning for the primary sin in which he had let his friend leave to explore the wild outer world and how it worked. A lifetime is spent staying sequestered and ending as the teacher of the unchallenged monastic life.

I was like a copper cricket, staring uncomprehending at the immense sky, I listened to the quiet tick of my life, winding down, all the time. It would soon stop at the whim of the Makers. Then all would be silence.

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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