Introduction to "The Gods of Reorth"

By Debbie Notkin

A story shouldn't be judged for its context, the time and place where it was written and/or published; a story should be judged for itself. And yet my fondness for "The Gods of Reorth" is born both of the story and of the cultural context in which it appeared.

This "introduction" contains major spoilers for the story, so read the story first if that will bother you.

Lizzy Lynn and I were close friends when this story was looking for a publisher, and we're close friends now, more than 30 years later. I read it first in manuscript, and it touched me deeply. Science fiction stories about women loving each other (outside of the lesbian small-publishing industry) were few and far between in the late 1970s. So, it was frustrating but not surprising when Liz got a rejection slip for the story on the ground that the main character's actions weren't adequately grounded in the story's action: in other words, finding the bloody murdered body of your lover is not enough motive for an act of revenge—as long as you and your lover are both women. Swap out Jael's gender for male, and no editor would ever have made that complaint.

Leaving the context behind, a few things jump out about the story: first, it is a science fiction story. Liz's language always has a fantasy flavor; even her hard SF novels often sound like epic fantasy. A good science fiction story should have a scientific backing that is essential to the story: Jael cannot be who she is, or do what she does, without the specific technology that backs her up. Her revenge is perfectly situated in her power, and her power is technological.

Second, it is a story of what happens when gods interact with humans. If any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic (Clarke's Law), then the wielders of any sufficiently advanced technology are indistinguishable from gods. And gods are lonely. What humans have to offer gods are intangibles, things the god cannot create for herself, such as companionship, trust, and ease.

And finally, the revenge at the end of the story is swift, implacable . . . and kind. This is not an "eye for an eye" or "life for a life" story; Jael could so easily do to the soldiers of Rys what they did to her lover; instead, she wreaks a vengeance that is powerful and bloodless, devastating and reparable. This is revenge as solution, not as endless loop.

If you like this story, find Liz's hard science fiction novels: A Different Light and The Sardonyx Net. Or her fantasy novels, the Chronicles of Tornor trilogy and the two newer ones (Dragon's Winter and Dragon's Treasure). Or even her most successful fantasy novella, "The Woman Who Loved the Moon" (in her collection The Woman Who Loved the Moon and Other Stories, which also contains this story)—that's the one she thought I should have picked for this showcase. You'll be glad you did.


Debbie Notkin has been a specialty bookseller, a reviewer for Locus, a fanzine publisher, an editor at Tor, a WisCon and FOGcon organizer, and more. She is the chair of the Tiptree Award motherboard. She blogs with Laurie Toby Edison, her photography partner in body image work, at Body Impolitic.

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