Nebula Novelettes: José Pablo Iriarte – The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births (Lightspeed)

Jamie is a non-binary teenager living in a trailer park. What Jamie lacks in quantity of friends they make up for in the quality of them:

“I seem to make an outcast of myself every time I’m a teenager. Which is fine, I guess. I’ll take one good dog and one good friend over being a phony and fitting in.”

José Pablo Iriarte – The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births Published in Lightspeed Jan. 2018 (Issue 92)

“Every time”? Jamie has a remarkable secret. They have lived many past lives and (sort of) remember each of them:

“What Mrs. Francis doesn’t know is that I remember every life I’ve lived for nearly four hundred years—not in detail, but like a book I read once and have a few hazy recollections about. In over a dozen lifetimes I can recall, I’ve been male and female enough times for those words to mean little more to me than a particular shirt—not who I am.”

José Pablo Iriarte – The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births Published in Lightspeed Jan. 2018 (Issue 92)

Jamie’s fuzzy memories of their past collide with their present life when the park gets a new resident. The man named Benjamin is a convicted murderer recently released but it is not that which disturbs Jamie but rather that they remember him. That is, they remember him from a recent past life…

The story goes on from this interesting premise into a semi-supernatural murder mystery as Jamie delves further into their own memories and the facts of the case. In the meantime they have to deal with the bullies and surrounding prejudices of their life.

Not unlike Agent of Utopia, I felt this was more of a sketch of a better a story. There’s little space to set up the mystery before it is solved and the solving of it is straight-forward. With no space for alternate twists or any deeper character development everything is resolved before any tension has time to be established. Jamie has to do a bit of digging to work out what is going on but once prompted it’s mainly a matter of them remembering what had occurred in a past life.

The story doesn’t lack positive qualities but it really didn’t engage me. Neither Jamie as a character nor the surrounding mystery they are caught up in had time to develop.



  1. Cora Buhlert

    I know I read this story, when it first came out, because the title rang a bell, when it popped up on the Nebula shortlist. But I also find that I remember next to nothing of the plot apart from “something about a kid and a murderer in a trailer park”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JJ

    I actually thought that this was an engaging little story. There are some interesting plot elements, but it’s very straightforward, and as you say, doesn’t really have the length to explore the possibilities. I do like the way it highlights how a single injustice can ruin the next 50 years of someone’s life, but there’s not really anything here which would elevate it from a good story to an exceptional one.


  3. Mark Hepworth

    I remember quite liking this but finding the premise a bit creepy (and not in a good way). Didn’t make my longlist. I can see why it made the Nebulas though.


  4. Pingback: Nebula Novelettes: Summing Up | Camestros Felapton

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