"Achilo" is Lofgran's first published story. She clearly honed her skill as a writer and put her heart and soul into this piece before submitting it. Imaginative, moving, thought-provoking and deeply spiritual, this is an excellent work of fiction which deserves to be anthologized or included in a book-length collection of Logran's stories.
Reading "Achilo" was a remarkable experience for me in part because I had no idea what it was about before I read it, and the story's beginning in no way revealed its end. By the end of the story one can see how its three main sections form a completely integrated whole. But the directions the story takes are surprising until the end.
"Achilo" begins with Kavene, the protagonist, startled as his apartment's security monitors alert him to the approach of law enforcement officials. It quickly becomes clear that Kevane is a brilliant, resourceful man with a history of imprisonment and escape. He is also a careful planner, but all of his carefully laid-out escape routes have been blocked this time, and he is unable to evade arrest.
But Kavene is confident that he will soon be released. He has paid top dollar for plastic surgery to alter his voice, skin grafts to change his fingerprints, and eye surgery to alter his retinal scans. He has altered his voice, the way he walks, acquired a local accent, and hacked into computer records to establish convincing evidence of a completely different identity. Kavene is surprised when the arresting officer, who has spent a year trying to find him, refuses to believe that Kavene is somebody else, and decides to hold him for the five days necessary to get genetic test results. Kavene had been working on hacking into the high-security government computer database which stores identifying genetic data of criminals, but he hadn't yet succeeded in getting in and changing his records. With genetic scans proving his identity, he has been caught.
Instead of being sent to yet another high security prison, from which he has escaped before, Kavene finds himself sent to Achilo, from where nobody has ever escaped. When he arrives there, he can't imagine what makes the place so escape-proof. The sky is open, the fences aren't particularly high, and the place looks more like a park than a prison.
But when Kavene sees an uncooperative inmate subdued by a slight touch from a guard, he realizes Achilo's dramatic difference: many of the guards and counselors at the prison are hand-gifted and sight-gifted: They come from the minority race of telepaths, who are normally disallowed by law from using their abilities on people without consent. Here at Achilo, where society's most hardened, rehabilitation-resistant criminals have been sent, some of the normally guaranteed prisoner's rights have been suspended.
From a fascinating story of privacy, escape and criminal genius, "Achilo" changes to present a compelling system for criminal incarceration and rehabilitation. The Achilo prison facility is humane, pleasant, but secure. Kevane's genius is on display here as he makes repeated attempts to escape confinement. His desparation escalates as he is moved to increasingly secure levels of Achilo, and finds his privileges diminished. Finally, after hanging himself in hopes of waking up in a less secure infirmary, Kevane finds himself moved to Level One, where only the most recalcitrant inmates are sent.
Having reached rock bottom, Kevane finds he is not alone. A telepathic counselor, Sahalio, is also in the room, and the story enters a third, surprising stage. Sahalio does not participate in "rebuilds," which is what telepaths at other penal institutions have been doing for the criminal justice system. A "rebuild" is forcibly removing criminal tendencies and hatred and anger and so much else from a perpetrator's mind, afterwards "rebuilding" the felon's mind so that it is compliant but a mockery of sentience.
Achilo is a new facility, and Sahalio employs a new technique. He doesn't change Kevane by force, but telepathically shows him some things. Together they relive Kevane's horrifying childhood experiences which led to his present criminal mindset. They also relive the murders Kevane has committed, which he has never felt any remorse for. Then Sahalio shows Kevane an alternative script, opening up his mind to possibilities he'd never confronted before.
Only here does it become clear that "Achilo" is more than an action story, more than an exploration of compelling and oft-ignored social themes, it is also a very effective parable. Writing a story that works in a literary sense as good science fiction and also in a moral sense as effective parable is not easy. But Kevane's experience with Sahalio transforms "Achilo" into a deeply moral, ethical, spiritual story, and a powerful experience.
Lofgran goes where most writers fear to tread, confronting some challenging themes. Where many stories have failed, "Achilo" succeeds. Philosophically, it is a profoundly humanistic and profoundly Christian Latter-day Saint story. But it will be appreciated by people of every ideological persuasion because of its penetrating honesty and emotional depths. "Achilo" is a great, unheralded story from an author who I hope, for my own reading pleasure, will publish more in the future.
11 October 2000
This anthology is available from Amazon.com or directly from Signature Books
Adherents.com's review of Washed by a Wave of Wind
Washed by a Wave of Wind, M. Shayne Bell's anthology of science fiction from "The Corridor", the Latter-day Saint-settled Utah-Idaho region, is one of the finest collections of regional or ethnic science fiction ever produced. It's an excellent anthology of fiction judged by any standards, and has won awards and critical acclaim. Tucked among stories by such nationally prominent authors as Orson Scott Card, Elizabeth Boyer and Dave Wolverton is a less-frequently discussed gem called "Other Time" by a less-frequently published author, Diana Lofgran Hoffman.
I can't say that "Other Time" is the "best" story in this anthology, but it is my favorite. There are probably literary critics who favor some of the edgier stories. Maybe some of the other stories really are better from some technical perspective or other. But "Other Time" is the story I remember the most. It's the only story I immediately read twice: the first time to myself and the second time with my wife because I thought she would enjoy it and be able to relate to the main character. My wife did enjoy it, and she never reads fiction. So I remember "Other Time" for that experience, and for the pure pleasure of reading it the first time, and for the thought-provoking concepts that it presents.
The premise is implausible, ridiculous even: a young mother in Provo finds an odd-looking spherical object by a dumpster which has the ability to stop time. (Actually, and this is a bit of a spoiler, so don't read the rest of this sentence if you haven't read the story yet, the device speeds up time within a limited bubble of space around it.) A person carrying the device can activate it and effectively have unlimited time to do whatever they want, while the rest of the world is apparently frozen.
The ramifications are immense. The woman in the story finds she can do all of her housework, catch up on her reading, and take up wildlife photography with the freedom that "Other Time" gives her. A screaming infant can be held and soothed for ten minutes, a half hour, however long it takes, in between hearing the phone ring and picking it up. The woman envisions a globe-trotting career as a photographer providing a break from her pressures as nurse, mother, and wife of a graduate student. A strong point of the story is the extent to which the author has considered the implications, mechanics, and repercussions of such a device. One can't help but whimsically consider what it would be like.
But, of course, there is a price to be paid for such a gift. And unlike the arbitrary, contrived conditions encountered in so many fantasy stories, the drawback associated with the time device is completely logical, flowing from scientific principles associated with the nature of the device itself.
The protagonist in "Other Time" doesn't not stand out for a peculiar trait, philosophy, background, etc. She's an everywoman, very realistically portrayed, in both her strengths and flaws. I expect that a wide range of people can identify with her, and inject themselves into this story. The tale is at the same time escapist and familar.
Readers will not find objectionable material here, but the story is not simple or saccharine. It constantly surprised me with its probing, honest nature, and its presentation of truly challenging ethical situations. What would I do in such a situation? Reading "Other Time" was a highly participatory experience, one that stayed with me in some positive and powerful ways.
9 October 2000