Published by Unsung Stories on May 9 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
This is the second book I’ve read by Whiteley, whose last book from Unsung Stories, The Beauty, was shortlisted for the Shirley Jackson Award and was a favorite in the SFF blogging community. Although I was the black sheep and didn’t love it as much as some people, I wanted to read her follow-up novella, The Arrival of Missives, which I found to be much more accessible. While The Beauty was just a little too far on the “weird” side for me, I really enjoyed The Arrival of Missives, especially the main character, a plucky, energetic and extremely smart young woman named Shirley. (OK, not so keen on her name, but the story does take place in the 19th century, when “Shirley” might have been all the rage!)
Shirley is a character ahead of her time, where she is expected to marry and be a helpmate to her future husband, raise a family and keep her mouth shut. But Shirley has other plans. She’s fallen in love with her teacher, Mr. Tiller, and wants to go away to college, get a teaching degree, and come back to her village and teach alongside him. But her plans are sidelined when she discovers a horrible secret about Mr. Tiller: he’s returned from the war a damaged man. Although mortally wounded in battle, he miraculously survived after a large rock dropped from the sky and embedded itself in his chest. This rock, a missive from another time and place, shows Mr. Tiller visions of the future in which the world will be destroyed by certain individuals, and it’s his duty to act on this information and make sure that these blood lines don’t continue.
Mr. Tiller enlists Shirley to help him by catching the eye of a boy named Daniel Redmore, whose future family line will cause untold destruction. By marrying Daniel herself, Shirley can stop the birth of a future Redmore, the root of many problems down the road. But Shirley isn’t the type to always do what she’s told, and so she is determined to find out what the rock is really telling Mr. Tiller.
Whiteley’s story once again veers towards “weird,” but I do love the trope of someone from the future sending a message back to warn us and give us the opportunity to change our path of destruction, and despite the weird elements—the rock in Mr. Tiller’s chest—I thought it worked really well. I especially liked the time period the story is set in, which contrasts well with the futuristic storyline. The characters live in a quaint rural village where one of their most anticipated events is the yearly May Day celebration, and they are blissfully unaware of the odd things that are going on with the local teacher. But Mr. Tiller’s missive changes everything, especially for Shirley, showing her things that she could never have imagined.
Shirley is a wonderful character! Rarely have I run across someone with such a positive attitude about everything. In a time when women are expected to follow a certain life path, Shirley veers right off track in order to first contemplate her dream of becoming a teacher, and later to try to change the future. It was interesting to see her character grow and change, since she starts out as a star-struck young girl in love, but later sees a terrifying truth in Mr. Tiller that she just can’t leave alone. This is one girl who is smart enough to think far ahead and image the consequences of her actions.
Whiteley’s writing style is perfect for this story, and she gives Shirley a strong yet vulnerable voice. While I loved the science fiction elements, I was interested to find that for me, Shirley really steals the show. As character studies go, The Arrival of Missives is a fascinating look into a complex woman who isn’t afraid to face the unknown.