“Pansolapia” is a short story by Jeffrey Ford that was published on Event Horizon in July 1999.
Good to get that out of the way. Now, onto the review!
The Story: More Of An Experience Than A Narrative
This four-page tale depicts the sailor Ardnith and his crew on a voyage made perilous by an encounter with the sorceress Vashmena. During their struggle, Ardnith relives scenes from his own life and eventually finds himself back home in the presence of the Shaman, as this entire trip may or may not have been some elaborate vision quest for the poor sailor.
I wish I could be more specific about the tale, but honestly, it’s only four pages long and there’s more description and transition than there is action and dialogue.
The Cast: The Sailor, The Sorceress, And The Shaman
Our protagonist is Ardnith, a traveler on a ship to the land of Pansolapia who fears what awaits him there and would rather be home in the comfort of his wife’s presence. Accompanying him is the sailor Kilif, who is described as a “beast-man” and said to be “lion-pawed.” Being a fantasy story, it’s possible that Kilif really is a half-man, half-lion creature, but it could also be just hyperbole.
Vashmena is a hostile sorceress, much like Circe was to the sailors who served under the Greek hero Odysseus. Yet she may also be an illusion concocted by the Shaman, who may be conducting an elaborate vision quest for Ardnith, in which case Kilif and all the other sailors are themselves just illusions that Ardnith must overcome.
Final Verdict: See For Yourself What Lies Beyond The Rim
I’d say more about this story, but it’s only four pages long and there’s so much subtle shifts in language and imagery that I needed to read it over twice to be sure I understood what was going on. But unlike some other stories I’ve read, this was a tale I didn’t mind rereading for the sake of clarification. It takes patience to read, but it’s mystical and magical all the same.
Bibliography: Ford, Jeffrey. “Pansolapia.” Digital Domains: A Decade of Science Fiction & Fantasy. Edited by Ellen Datlow. Prime Books, 2010.