"So it begins," as the narrator says late in this story. Indrapramit Das is a new writer, with a couple of stories under his belt in relatively minor venues. "Weep for Day," in the August 2012 Asimov's, is a big step forward in visibility for him. Here's the first paragraph:
I was eight years old the first time I saw a real, living Nightmare. My parents took my brother and me on a trip from the City-of-Long-Shadows to the hills at Evening's edge, where one of my father's clients had a manse. Father was a railroad contractor. He hired out labor and resources to the privateers extending the frontiers of civilization toward the frozen wilderness of the dark Behind-the-Sun. Aptly, we took a train up to the foothills of the great Penumbral Mountains.
This is as deft a job of world-creation as I've seen since I don't know when. A reader moderately familiar with the conventions of science fiction will immediately grasp that this is a tidally-locked world with a permanent dayside and a nightside of eternal darkness -- and see, too, that the times are in rapid technological flux. A newcomer will have all this spelled out over the course of the story in a way that does not condescend. Das knows his craft.
The plot is simple and almost beside the point. In her youth, the narrator travels with her family to see the Nightmare, a member of a species so fearful that bad dreams are named after them. When young, her father was a knight-errant who had actually slain Nightmares. The narrator's brother, Velag, yearns to be a knight like him. But times are changing and by the time he's old enough to do so, the honor is almost always presented posthumously.
The ensuing plot twists will surprise no experienced reader. But "Weep for Day" is a mood- rather than plot-driven story, so this hardly matters. Indeed, at one key point Das writes "I was seventeen the last time I saw Velag," in order to drain all melodrama what follows. The characters we meet over the course of the story are not actually crucial to the changes their world is undergoing. What matters here is that the world is changing and they are typical of their society in their responses to it.
A word about the actual writing itself. "Weep for Day" is a young man's story, skipping back and forth in time, taking ideas the author has obvious put a great deal of work into and treating them as casual throwaways, at times skimming over very thin ice indeed but never quite cracking it. This is, in a young man, good. The prose reminded me of early Zelazny. It has touches of Gene Wolfe and Mary Gentle and other writers to it as well. Mostly, however, it sounds like Indrapramit Das.
This is an excellent beginning and I, for one, will be watching for more stories by this guy.
I expect good things from him.