Francesca Forrest, The Inconvenient God. Annorlunda Books, 2018. Pp. 70. ISBN 978-1-944354-41-1. $7.99 pb/$2.99 e.Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad
The Inconvenient God is a novelette-length story, approximately 11-12,000 words at my estimate, published as a standalone volume in print and e-book by Annorlunda Books, specialists in bite-sized, diverse novellas and novelettes “that you can finish in an afternoon.” This story is set in a secondary world with approximately contemporary technology and infrastructure (trains, telecommunications, etc. are familiar to a modern reader) in which a multitude of gods literally and visibly walk the earth. Perhaps a flavour of fabulist realism rather than fantasy, the story features a highly bureaucratic and centralized Polity (perhaps loosely Central Asian in flavor?), who send a Decommissioner from the Ministry of Divinity to retire a minor, regional—and waning—god of mischief in the northwestern province.
The story begins with heady descriptions of ritual, highly functional politeness, and formality to the point of officiousness. Of course the more rigid your hierarchy and the more inflexible your plan of action, the more immediately and inextricably things turn out to be much less straightforward than they appear. There’s a limit to how much one should explain and reveal in a review of a piece this length without spoiling the story for other readers, but Forrest does a lovely job of giving the gods and bureaucrats alike very real, very believable personas. The former are far from human, inscrutable without being random or confusing; and the latter are fallible and utterly foiled without becoming cartoon villains or cheap jokes. This is not a simple tale with a single moral lesson, and neither is it a religiously orthodox nor iconoclastic tract. The dénouements and solutions, such as they are, are organic, sometimes improvised, perhaps imperfect but never unsatisfying. The Inconvenient God is an uncommonly rich and interesting story for its length, and an excellent addition to the Annorlunda list.