A xerox machine prints photos of the dead killed by Pol Pot until it drives away the people in the building. Right from the beginning I loved the mix of tradition and technology in the ghost story that opens “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy),” by Geoff Ryman. After that, it says:
Then we construct Pol Pot’s daughter, as she must exist.
And he does construct an image of Sith, as a typical Asian daughter of power: beautiful, rich, and evasive. Because the rules she lives by drive her away from the sons of the powerful, her attentions devolve on a cell phone salesman called Dara. When he asks who her father was, she can’t admit the truth; she says her father is Kol Vireakboth. Then the haunted photos start coming out of her printer.
I was enchanted by the fairy tale aspect of the ghost story entangling with the prickly love story that developed between these mismatched lovers. Sith must acknowledge the truth and offer rembrance to the dead in order to have her future with Dara. At the end, I wept tears of joy for the lovers united, for the ghosts set to rest.
But I was left curious about Cambodia. Sith does some Googling in the story, and I did the same. I couldn’t find Kol Vireakboth. Pol Pot’s daughter in real life is named Sitha, though she now goes by Malee. Weirdly enough, there are people who worship the memory of Pol Pot. I also found more in-depth reviews that make me feel foolish to even try to analyze this story. For now, all I can say is the more I learn, the more I realize I should have listened with the narrator says. This is only a story you wish could be true.
I’ll leave the question of who “you” are, or what “the truth” is for the experts.
Tomorrow: A Nebula nominee I love