Okay, this actually is a story. There are characters, there is an actual reality that they interact with, there is conflict and the protagonist actually undergoes some kind of an arc. I like how it’s built around a set of five kickers that gradually amp up the suspense. There is also an actual science fiction premise here. This is pretty good.
But it’s also amateurish. It’s use of the “f word” a whopping seven times makes it seem like it was written by an adolescent, not a Hugo caliber writer. “Three big white men” roar in from “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” in order to hurl racist epithets and behave in a cowardly fashion. (You know, my generation worked overtime to make The Joker into a sympathetic character. Why does yours use cardboard cutouts for bad guys? Seriously, y’all.) Finally, I’m surprised that the use of a lame pun at the most dramatic moment of the story made it through editing. Maybe I’ve spent too much time reading Vance, Lovecraft, and Howard lately to get into this, but I’d have thought that we really could do better than this for what’s supposed to be the year’s best fiction.
So why do people like it so much? I think because it’s real. I know the sort of people in the story. I know the places they travel in. The science is convincing. These many connections to reality grounds the story and gives it some real substance. And those kickers really are effective:
- As if she knew anything just because her mother was on the Moon. She snorted.
- “Something hit the Moon. That’s why the meteors were so awesome last night. It was the Moon exploding.”
- The Moon was gone.
- There was a huge cracking noise overhead, and the road seemed to roll up beneath them. Out of the brush at the sides of the highway, hundreds of deer sprang forward, flooding into the road and then across and down the other side.
- A high whining noise broke the still air, as though a jet engine had materialized somewhere above them.
You can drop that into the middle of just about any Traveller campaign and then run with it. It’s great.
On the other hand, I am just so sick of this:
“A big truck roared into the station as Jack was finishing with the pump. Three big white men, mid-twenties to thirties, jumped out, whooping. Two of them were carrying machetes.”
“Ooh, look Jerry.” One of the other men, the one not holding Heidi, laughed. “The spic cunt there wants us to leave.”
I know that this sort of thing is a morsel of joy for 80% of the internet… but come on! You forgot the part where they had a gun rack, rebel flag prominently displayed on the back window, truck nuts hanging off the back bumper, and that they fired off their Dixie horn kit when they pulled in. Lynyrd Skynyrd blares on their radio. These guys spit tobacco juice into old Mountain Dew cans, drop their “g’s”, and have at least one item of hunter camouflage on their person.
And they gallantly protect the gas station from looters and then save someone’s life because of their experience working with the volunteer fire department.
I mean what else would they do?