When I mentioned in passing to Charles Payseur on twitter that I loved “Rivers Run Free” and the world it was set in, he let me know there was a sequel, and I was immediately on the hunt. Even better? Since it was printed in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, it was also available as an audio performance via their podcast, which is how I listened to “Undercurrents.”
Where “Rivers Run Free” gave us the point of view of the hunted—rivers in their humanoid form desperately trying to get away from the dowser hunters of the empire that enslaves rivers in wheels of magical/technological binding to power cities, “Undercurrents” gives us the point of view of the bounty hunters themselves, the humans with dowsing ability, employed by the empire to find and hunt down rogue rivers. At first, I was nervous, as it literally puts you onto the side of those enslaving others, but very quickly Payseur makes it clear there’s more going on than the obvious evils, and that kept me going long enough to truly enjoy the whole of the performed piece (the audio performer, by the way, was excellent).
Again, there’s queerness just casually tossed into the tale (I love that so much), and Payseur’s world-building is just brilliant, and finding out the hows of dowsing, and glimpses of what life was like before the empire came along and enforced their ways was done with just enough to give the reader a sense of how much was at stake. It is almost too late for this world to be saved, if it’s possible at all. But “Undercurrents” ends with just enough hope that I was so very glad to have come along for the journey into this setting a second time.