The Fate of Mice by Susan Palwick exemplifies the spirit of Ecclesiastes: it searches for the best response to meaningless life leading to nothingness. Each of the eleven stories takes a different approach, and in the end, the author is clearly not satisfied. Perhaps she needs a twelfth, based on Ecclesiastes 12:
1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;Ah, the KJV is the most resonant for such passages. This one ends thus:
2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
3 In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.To the godless, this is satisfies even less. Sobeit.
14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
Each story is one answer to a question:
- "The Fate of Mice": Remember Flowers for Algernon? What if the mouse doesn't die right away, and keeps his brains? When a mouse learns that all mice die, then what?
- "Gestella": Does a werewolf live by dog years? The end of this story exposes the ultimate fantasy of men who feel trapped in outdated marriages.
- "The Old World": In a genuine utopia, what do you do for those who just have to fight "the establishment"?
- "Jo's Hair": When you give of yourself, what do you get in return?
- "Going After Bobo": Why do we blind ourselves to what we really value?
- "Beautiful Stuff": Suppose a corpse could be returned to life for a day; what really interests the dead? Why should they care about anything the living care about?
- "Elephant": Neurosis is like a younger, damaged self stuck inside; to what extreme can you go to remove it?
- "Ever After": What was the cost to Cinderella of all that magic? Spoiler: There's vampire tale in here, and a new vampire is produced only when one dies. How did there get to be more than one in the first place?
- "Stormdusk": OK, Sorcerer, you've ensorceled the Frost Maiden and married her...now what?
- "Sorrel's Heart": Given the question, "Is life worth living for the seriously retarded or grossly handicapped?": grossly mutated or distorted physical features are a metaphor for the same query.
- "GI Jesus": (GI doesn't mean what you think) When God can't use a "man of God", whom will He use..and how?