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Birthday Reviews: Kay Kenyon’s “The Executioner’s Apprentice”

Monday, July 2nd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Kenn Brown and Chris Wren

Cover by Kenn Brown and Chris Wren

Kay Kenyon was born on July 2, 1956.

Kenyon has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award for her novel Maximum Ice. Her novel The Braided World was nominated for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. She was nominated for the Endeavour Award three years in a row for the novels Bright of the Sky, A World Too Near, and City Without End.

She wrote “The Executioner’s Apprentice” for Julie Czerneda and Isaac Szpindel’s anthology ReVisions, which focused on scientific achievements as the catalyst for alternate history. Published in 2004, the story has never been reprinted.

“The Executioner’s Apprentice” takes a place in an Aztec empire which is advanced enough to make use of genetic testing in determining who has violent tendencies and likely criminal behavior to determine the appropriate victims of execution. Pacal is the titular apprentice who is preparing for his first execution and has completely bought into the traditional system. When his friends arrange for him to lose his virginity prior to his first execution, Kina, the woman he is with, tries to make him understand that there are better ways than executions.

On the eve of his induction into the ranks of Executioners, Pacal learns that the methodology he has been taught by the priests to find victims is a lie, and that his first victim will be Kina. Rather than culling the Aztecs of their most violent citizens, the priests are working to remove those who abhor violence, building a society which is ready to defend themselves not only against their traditional enemies but also the mysterious Eastern Army, which is implied to be made up of European conquistadors.

The discovery that genetic testing was not used for what Pacal believed is only the first twist that Kenyon introduces. When Kina and Pacal flee so he doesn’t have to kill her, Kenyon reveals more about the Eastern religion Kina follows and the holy book she reveres and tries to get Pacal to understand. This last twist is a nice touch, although it doesn’t help place the time period or the evolution of society to the story, if anything confusing it even more.

Reviewed in its only publication in the anthology ReVisions, edited by Julie E. Czerneda and Isaac Szpindel, DAW Books 2004.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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