Basking in A Catalogue of Sunlight at the End of the World by A.C. Wise

The three core elements of any short story that must satisfy this reader are 1) intriguing characters, 2) a believable world, and 3) a plot. That’s it. It seems so elemental, but plenty of stories that try to lure my reading eye fall short in one or more of those categories, and failure creates a cascading reading crisis here. When a story fails to deliver, I stop reading.

We reader/writers don’t want that. You writer/readers don’t want that. Editors of online magazines, publishers of novels, publishers and editors of print anthologies–none of you want this. So let me spread a little ray of sunshine, a little high, a joy, a hope, a satisfaction by sharing a brief review of the best short story I’ve read since the summer.

northsunAn unnamed narrator, a man in his later years, is writing to his dead wife in “A Catalogue of Sunlight at the End of the World” by A.C. Wise. He’s at a crossroads of a sort. His wife is gone and his children are going. If you are of a certain age, these bare facts will have given you ample motivation to continue reading, but the payoff is not some melodramatic family drama. The drama is both much quieter and much larger. The earth is dying, and his children are fleeing to space to find a new home, leaving him behind. Continue reading

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Snippet of a story

I should be working on the WIP, but this is had to get on paper. Let me know what you think.

When people talk about the purge now they mostly fall in one of two camps. Some worship at the altar of mysterious holy-or-unholy retribution. We got it ‘cause we deserved it or, flip side, we got it because some badass demon decided to visit it upon us and we were just simple little sheep led to slaughter mainly due to poor demon-identification skills. The other camp, those who persist in hoping that rational thought will save us, talk it out by trying to knit pieces of science together like a lifeline. We can trace the “vector” back to “case 1” and then science the hell out of it and then stop it. Stop it! Stop it!!!

Problem is god is a cagey son-of-a-bitch, demons are immortal and science is so damn slow.

So you could see how this was going to go down. God’s men would put your mind at ease about the end, demon fighters and demon deputies ate up all the media time trying to figure out how who was doing the demon’s work for him or why his work was good for the country, and the science types had to fall back on prayer that somebody with real skills and knowledge was working on a solution somewhere.

Those of us who clearly understood this scenario, regardless of our natural biases, had only one true option. Stay or go. Not fight or flight, mind you, because we do both all too often. The option was and is stay or go. Stay where you are, fortify your walls and yourself and deal with what comes, or go where you want to be to fortify your walls and yourself and deal with what comes.

I thought I was a stay, but now I’m a go. That’s how Clare and I, and the dog, ended driving hard across the southwest toward the rising sun and home.

Choosing between near and distant futures

Note: Next week I’ll talk about choosing between future fiction that is inwardly oriented vs. outwardly oriented.

One of the issues that bedevils me when I start writing a new story (and there are many) is determining the right timeline. Stories set in the past are easier than those in the future because, whatever point in time the story resides in, the setting is understood and accepted. One need merely to figure out where on that timeline one wants to tether the story in question and then ensure the settings and other elements are credible according to the historic record. But the future…well. There is no line. One must select a point in the ether and color outside the lines because there are no lines, and this is really fun, but creating a credible story in any future is tricky business. Continue reading

Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde–I just don’t get it

This is the last review of the short stories nominated for the 2017 Nebula Awards. 

According to the podcast introduction on Uncanny, this story really wowed people during a recent reading. I, however, remained uncertain about this bizarre story even after two readings. If you’ve watched “Westworld,” you’ll know that sometimes things don’t look like anything to you. It happens to humans as well as hosts. You can’t even begin to describe what is before you. Your programming is limited, faulty perhaps.

Here’s what I did manage to glean from the story: An unsuspecting person is invited into a torture museum (?) and given a personal tour by something not human. The ugliness of scientific and medical practices on the host and those like her (?) seems to inspire this museum’s collection. It is clear she (?) will extract something from the newest guest before the tour ends.

The voice narrating is very intriguing and the imagery of transforming human into something else was suitably eery. The story reminded me a lot of The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue, but I was not able to really sort out what was happening to the hapless human invited into this place.

I’m really very sorry, Fran Wilde, because I know from reading your other work that you are a gifted writer. The comprehension problem is entirely mine. Won’t I regret it if you win the Nebula!

It’s really not right to rate this story at all, but if I had to–palm flat and 3 stars out of 5.