May 24th, 2015

The Hugo Ballot, Part 14: A Brief Trip Back to Short Stories

I've gotten the Hugo packet and am now able to read the stories I missed.  And with the first of them, "A Single Samurai" by Steven Diamond, comes a problem I haven't had in this read so far.  Namely, that I didn't like the story, but I can imagine people who would.

If your idea of fun is seeing really big creatures -- I mean really big -- stomp past leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, if you've held onto that child-like joy that only a rampaging monster can bring, then this story might be for you.  It's a very simple tale -- a samurai tries to stop a monster from destroying his land -- and the monster isn't very well described, and there's a lot of unnecessary verbiage about samurai swords, and the end has some spectacular problems (about which more later), but that enthusiasm is there.  On the other hand, if you like stories about giant mythical monsters, you'd do far better to read Lucius Shepard's Dragon Graiule stories, which have a sheer descriptive power and a vast strangeness "A Single Samurai" never matches.

But the fact that some people might go off and read this story prompts me to put in a


warning before I talk about the end.

Okay, is everyone ready?  First of all, it's weird that the brain of the monster is out in the open like that, with no protection.  If the samurai can fall into it, what's to prevent anyone else from doing the same? What about those weird cats the samurai has to kill -- what's to stop them from dropping down into the cave and munching on some tasty brains?  Why on earth would something evolve that way?

The second problem is far worse, though.  As Nick Mamatas has already pointed out, although the samurai tells the story in first person, he ends up dying at the end.  How can he possibly be narrating this story?  Are we to assume that while he's bleeding out all over the monster's brain he's also sitting there and writing everything down?  Beginning writers make this kind of mistake, when they haven't learned the nuances that go with each point of view.  Here, it makes everything that's gone before look a little silly.