Title: “Long Time”
Author: Rick Norwood
Format: Short Story
Pages: about 16, but in a small page format
Published: in the January/February 2011 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Reason for Beginning: It appeared to about an immortal man in ancient Sumeria.
Reason for Finishing: It retells The Epic of Gilgamesh with a potentially interesting twist.
Spoiler-free Synopsis: An existential immortal man observes the petty, arrogant king Gilgamesh as he tries to become famous and immortal. The myth is ruthlessly deconstructed.
Story Re-readability: Writing style is decent, but I didn’t like it enough to reread it.
Author Re-readability: This particular story wasn’t one I cared for, but his style is good enough that I would give him another chance, especially if it also involved mythology.
Recommendation: Unless you’re studying the usage of ancient myths in modern literature, then no, not really.
I’m really sort of “meh” about this one. On the one hand, I hate heroic deconstructions, where a story tries to reveal the “sad truth” behind the character and ideals we once thought were good and noble. On the other hand, I’ve never thought Gilgamesh himself much of a noble hero. I remember him, from the epic poem, as violent, overly emotional, and lacking common sense, and, surprise, surprise, that’s exactly how he’s portrayed in Rick Norwood’s short story “Long Time,” except with more cowardice. I would much rather read a story that causes my opinion of Gilgamesh to improve, but as it stands, my heart wasn’t broken by this deconstruction.
The story is told in first person by an unnamed immortal man, who, after briefly describing a traumatic scene from his childhood (about which only a few, tantalizing details are given) tells us about his arrival at the great city of Uruk on the river Euphrates. He’s not too impressed by the crowds and stench of humanity’s first civilization, but he likes the big decorated walls and the stone palace. He reveres the goddess Ishtar, apparently out of mere practicality due to her great power, and casually mentions that he will later, after the events of this story, quarrel with and kill the trickster god Pan (who is, oddly, Greek, not Sumerian). At any rate, he joins the army of Gilgamesh, enlisting under the name John Smith, or rather, the Sumerian equivalent. He finds a pretty girl and marries her, insinuating to the reader that this has become a pattern for him. His immortality is implied, but clear, through most of the story – he’s developed a habit of staying a generation in a new place, marrying, finding a job, making a life for a little while, and then when the people he kind of likes die, he moves on to a new place. In Sumeria, he does all of the great deeds that Gilgamesh takes credit for, apparently just for the heck of it.
Point is, he’s not a very engaging personality. I think he does have a personality, but his personal narration, rather than letting us know him intimately, actually keeps us at a distance. He drops hints about his nature and history, but never confirms much. He claims to genuinely like the girl he marries, but it’s clear his emotional attachments are very limited. At times, he comments in a mildly sarcastic manner on the great divorce between the squalid reality of early civilization and its great, melodramatic ambitions. This doesn’t endear me to him, and yet he doesn’t become snarky or disdainful enough for me to hate him. It’s just that everything, from love to war, is all so routine for him. He doesn’t want fame or fortune, he just wants something to do, something to keep him busy for the endless years of his life. And yeah it makes some sense for an immortal person to have that attitude, but it doesn’t make them a very interesting main character. There’s nothing to empathize with, no emotion to feel.
So there you have it. “Long Time” by Rick Norwood is a decently interesting experiment in retelling The Epic of Gilgamesh from the POV of a bored immortal, but ultimately doesn’t have much more going on to recommend it.