Birthday Reviews: Sarah Smith’s “And Every Pebble a Soldier”

Birthday Reviews: Sarah Smith’s “And Every Pebble a Soldier”

Cover by Duncan Eagleson
Cover by Duncan Eagleson

Sarah Smith was born on December 9, 1947.

Although Smith is best known for writing historical mysteries set in Boston, she has also dabbled in speculative fiction, writing the hypertext novel King of Space and more traditional SF novels The Knowledge of Water and The Other Side of the Dark. She won the Agatha Award and the Massachusetts Book Award for The Other Side of the Dark.

Smith wrote “And Every Pebble a Soldier” for the 2015 anthology Deco Punk: The Spirit of the Age, edited by Thomas A. Easton and Judith K. Dial, based on a comment by Dial that linked Art Deco to Nazism. The story has not been reprinted.

Set in the aftermath of a truly destructive war, the protagonist of “And Every Pebble a Soldier,” a builder’s apprentice, is one of the only men to come back from war. Determined to build something useful, he begins to make a clockwork man that will help him clean up the debris that litters his town. When he finds a paving brick used to mark the grave of a friend, he chips away a bit of the rock and incorporates it into the wind-up man, eventually repopulating the village’s lost youth by creating an automaton with a piece of each one’s gravestone.

While some in the town take an interest in his hobby, others mock him or are down-right hostile.  The village priest sees him as someone performing the Devil’s work, as well as a threat to his own power in the Church. The apprentice persists, however, and slowly wins the town over as they begin to see his clockwork men as a way not only to repopulate the town, but to, in some way, bring their lost brothers and sons back to life.

Unfortunately, as the clockwork men become more and more ubiquitous, their situation as a curiosity in the village begins to change until the villagers see the beings as a means of exacting vengeance for the dead who they are replacing, thereby completing the circle as the automatons are sent off to destroy the victor from the last war.

Smith’s story has the feel of a fable. The language she uses immediately indicates that the world in which it is set, for all its disastrous war, does not follow the same rules as ours. The reactions people have, while not simplistic, are simplified and they interact less as characters and individuals than as archetypes. The story works well, with an ending that belies the hope which the story attains as the builders apprentice begins to resurrect the town.

Reviewed in its only publication in the anthology Deco Punk: The Spirit of the Age, edited by Thomas A. Easton and Judith K. Dial, Pink Narcissus Press, 2015.

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 “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. 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.

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