The Osteomancer’s Son, by Greg van Eekhout
June 1, 2008
This is the kind of fantasy fiction I can really get into. Not only does it give fairies, elves, dwarves, and other high fantasy rubbish a wide berth (I might come to like those things one day, but right now they’re one of my biggest literary turn-offs), but it incorporates elements of very different genres. It’s modern, it flows wonderfully, it has really cool stuff.
I’ve been a Greg van Eekhout enthusiast (I won’t say ‘fan’ because I’m not fanatical enough) ever since I heard In The Late December on Escape Pod last Christmas. That will most definitely be getting its own post one of these days. Either way, I was incredibly excited when I heard that PodCastle was going to be running a Van Eekhout story–especially when I saw the title.
Using my amazing linguistic skills, I figured out that it would be about a guy whose dad did magic with bones. That sounds pretty awesome, especially when it comes from the man who pitched Santa Claus against the physical embodiment of entropy in one of the best Christmas stories I’ve ever heard.
I wasn’t disappointed. I got mythical ocean beasts, a guy who smokes human bones, and a snarky first-person narrator who reminded me of the fun I had with Matt Wallace’s amazing Failed Cities Monologues (again, more on that later).
However, this piece has more than just ideas going for it, and I’m not just talking about Ben Phillips’ excellent reading. It’s got the cool worldbuilding, it’s got the excellent ideas, it’s got the ideal voice narrating it, but it’s also got perfect characterisation. I generally find it hard to sympathise with the protagonists of one-off short stories, but I was rooting for the protagonist all the way through. I cared about his relationship with his father, his relationship with his daughter, his struggle with his own problems. This story grabbed me by the metaphorical scruff of my neck and dragged me along, and I loved every moment of it.
The Osteomancer’s Son has everything that I want in a fantasy short, and I sincerely hope that Podcastle will deliver more of the same in the not-too-distant future.