Next up is ‘Truth’ by Robert Reed (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008). I think I might have read this before, but since I don’t subscribe to Asimov’s, or buy copies of the magazine, it must have been online. And yet, as I became more convinced I’d read it before, I still couldn’t remember the ending.
Ramiro is a terrorist kept in a super-secret Gitmo in a Kansas salt mine. He is from 140 years in the future, and he travelled back in time as part of an army of 200 bent on conquering the world. He was caught in 2002 – the car he was driving skidded on black ice and crashed, and the police discovered Uranium-235 hidden under the car’s spare tyre. For twelve years he has been interrogated and imprisoned. As a result of the intelligence gained from him, the US invaded Iraq. And then Iran. Terrorists then set off nukes in the US. Now billions are dead. Ramiro’s original interrogator has committed suicide, and a new one – the narrator – has been sent to make sense of the suicide, and to finally break Ramiro….
I really wanted to like ‘Truth’ but the fact that I’d read it before, and forgotten it, bothered me. Surely a good novella, a Hugo-nominated novella, should be more, well, memorable? And there is plenty to like in it. The central premise is good, and the final twist on that premise is satisfying.
Unfortunately, the narrator is unlikeable – admittedly, she’s a torturer, so it’s not really fair to expect her to be sympathetic – but she’s also too obtuse. It feels like she’s withholding information from the reader simply in order to extend the story. The novella seems longer than it needs to be. I suspect this is partly in order to ramp up the effects of the “temporal jihadists”. The earth has to suffer increasingly worse attacks in order to set up the final pay-off.
‘Truth’ does have something important to say and I consider that a point in its favour. It makes clever use of recent history, commenting on both the invasion of Iraq and the US’s criminal use of torture. It feels a tiny bit out-of-date now that Obama is president, but of course it was originally published before the presidential election so it’s hard to hold that against it.