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I'm trying to ID a short story that's probably between 10-20 years old.

The setting is a city in a valley. Time behaves like a liquid affected by gravity. It's evaporated from most of the world, but life in this city continues because it's in a valley. Time is continuing to evaporate, so the city is doomed.

There is one tower in the city that rises above the time liquid. It's built of bricks which have some writing on them, possibly a word for god or something religious. The protagonist climbs up the tower and notices that above the time level, the writing on the bricks is gone.

I read this in some anthology that I don't own. It might have been one of the 'year's best' SF collections.

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    It sounds the sort of thing Ted Chiang might have written, though I don't recall it from any of the Ted Chiang collections I have. Oct 30, 2021 at 5:42
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    @JohnRennie - I thought it was Chiang as well. Probably because it's the sort of thing that he writes.
    – Valorum
    Oct 30, 2021 at 7:03
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    In case anyone is interested, I've asked a follow-up question to try to pinpoint the location/setting of this story.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Oct 30, 2021 at 7:49

1 Answer 1

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"Time, as it Evaporates . . .", a translation by Jean-Louis Trudel of "Le temps, en s'évaporant", a short story by Jean-Claude Dunyach. You may have read it in the anthology Year's Best SF 10 (Kathryn Cramer and David G. Hartwell, eds.), which can be "borrowed" (for free but registration required) from the Internet Archive. Here is a Goodreads review by Lizabeth Tucker:

When time rips apart, only one small Muslim town survives in a pocket caused by surrounding mountains. But that time [lake] is slowly receding. So incredibly deep. Faith and humanity, love and hate, all have a place in this tale.

[The following confirmation was added by user Valorum with an excerpt from the story, which is partly available at Google Books.]

Writing is erased when it leaves the time liquid:

On the other side of the lake’s frosted glass lies a Universe without time. Marwan is the only one to have seen it; the superstitious dread which prevents other community members from venturing to the stairway’s top has allowed him to enjoy an unchallenged prestige. If someone dared to climb as high as him, he would see that the emerged peak of the minaret is clear of any inscription. The name of the Lord is erased as soon as the time-level falls, the earthenware tiles recovering their virginity temporarily violated by the touch of faith.

A few months earlier, Marwan carved the names of all the gods he knew on a clay tablet attached to the end of a stick. The tablet was destroyed when it pierced the surface, and the muezzin recovered his serenity, only shaken for a time. In this world as in the other, no one is greater than Allah.

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    I've taken the liberty of adding in a quote from the English translation of the story that confirms OPs description. The story can be read at Google Books, at least in part.
    – Valorum
    Oct 30, 2021 at 7:04
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    Yes, I have the anthology and it fits the description. I can provide any additional details if needed. Oct 30, 2021 at 7:25
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    That's it, thanks!
    – Dave
    Oct 30, 2021 at 12:26
  • You're welcome @Dave!
    – user14111
    Oct 30, 2021 at 12:31

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