Driftwood, by Marie Brennan, is the kind of weirdness I adore in fiction. This fantastical collection contains a series of stories that share a setting and one critical character to tell the strange tale of a place where worlds come to die. No one knows why or how but, in Driftwood, whole worlds suddenly appear on its edges. As they move closer to the center—called the Crush—things start to disappear until an entire world might become just a few streets or a building. When they hit the Crush, they vanish entirely. The last thing that all these stories share is the themes of death and memory.
After a prologue that sets the tone for the rest of the collection, we are whisked away to an ancient amphitheater that is all the remains of its world. On the floor of the amphitheater, someone has started to leave objects. All of the objects, it turns out, embody memories of different characters’ meetings with a being named Last. Last is the last of his (he is presented as male) people and, as far as anyone knows, his world has been devoured by the Crush. He should have disappeared by now, too. Not even he knows why he is still wandering around Driftwood. He’s been chased from pillar to post by people who are convinced that Last has the secret of immortality.
The stories in this collection are told by the characters who left things at the amphitheaters. In each of them, the narrator talks about his, her, or their meeting with Last. Sometimes, the character wants Las to help them retrieve something from a lost world or recapture lost knowledge or, in one of the more troubling stories, to provide salvation from the Crush. And, in all of them, the narrators have to reconcile themselves to what can be saved and what can’t.
Reading Driftwood reminded me of nothing so much as the overstuffed brain of a writer. Each story, even though they’re ostensibly about vanishing worlds, are packed with details about characters who’ve learned to make do with what they have left. Each world portrayed here is different, with its own history and biology. I loved to see all the different pronouns used so matter-of-factly as new sentient species are presented. The overall tone of Driftwood is melancholy, I reveled in all of the world-building Brennan packed into this book.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.