“In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind” by Sarah Pinsker

George and Millie have had a long and happy marriage, but with a shadow at its heart. George was a young architect when they met, full of visions of wonderful futures. The army had him making speculative designs.

“Barracks for soldiers who are ten feet tall, prisons built into the side of mountains, guard houses underwater. I know it’s all ridiculous stuff, kid stuff, but it’s fun to imagine. The engineers tell me what is and isn’t possible. I draw, and then they take my sketches away or tell me things to change. Mill, I thought my skyscrapers would be the future, but they’re showing me all kinds of futures I hardly know how to think about.”

In 1951, it all changed when George learned that his designs hadn’t been speculative at all. From that time, he only went through the motions of his profession, with his creativity reserved for the kids’ treehouse in the backyard, into which he poured everything he withheld from his career. Now he has had a stroke and wants something from Millie that he can’t express. She is determined to find it.

Essentially a warmhearted story about family and love. The heart is in the characters, who come to us as quite alive. George’s secret is the only SFnal aspect, and its SFnality isn’t what’s important about it; it might have been a mundane secret and would have had the same effect if it had so perverted his creative vision. In this respect, the story is a tragedy, even amid the joy.

It also exposes one of the many ways in which we allow war to destroy lives, wars and not-wars, obsessions with security and secrecy. George stands for all the young men and women who have become traumatized by the evil they find themselves doing, the harm they unwillingly or unknowingly inflict. If Millie is angry at the blighting of his life, she isn’t showing it; she’s taken a different way. Readers would probably not blame her if she were.

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