The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

"The Anatomist's Apprentice" by Matthew Claxton: An Appreciation by Mahesh Raj Mohan

"The Anatomist's Apprentice" was not only a first sale to SCIFICTION, but it was Matthew Claxton's first sale period. As anyone familiar with the grueling submission process knows--this is an impressive achievement. So I was curious how this tale captured Ellen Datlow's attention and made her love it.

It took just the first two paragraphs for me to be captivated as well. "The Anatomist's Apprentice" is an alternate history tale that takes place in "New Amsterdam." It's about Molly, a young woman who has been brought back from death, but has been reduced to a head, spinal cord, and small organ tree. She is being kept alive for research purposes by a "parsimonious" anatomist. Forced to endure endless experiments that drive home her lack of a body, she stops feeling. That is, until Jack enters the anatomist's laboratory. A poor city boy afflicted by a malignant growth, Jack will die within days unless the anatomist performs necessary surgery on him. With Molly's help, though, Jack becomes the anatomist's assistant, earning his keep so he'll survive. In the process, he gets to know Molly, and they form a bond.

The tale is a beautiful love story, leavened with just the right amount of humor, a heady dose of horror, and a masterful plot When we discover the nature of the malignant growth, the revelation is both grotesque and inspired. The setting is also inspired; in a short amount of space, Mr. Claxton builds a novel's worth of
history and culture.

The only moments where I felt that I was reading a first published effort came near the end, when I realized how the story was going to conclude. Yet I can't really fault Mr. Claxton for this, because the ending rises organically and logically from what has come before. Plus, though I read it over a year ago, Molly and Jack and the anatomist have stayed with me, as has the dirty and unforgiving world of New Amsterdam.

SCIFICTION published dozens of worthy stories by exceptional writers, each worthy of multiple readings. If you missed "The Anatomist's Apprentice" the first time around, allow yourself to be marvelled by a bright new light in the field.

Link to story.


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