Wednesday, December 23, 2009

After the First Death

Short Story by Jerry Craven

An akido master from the sixties fights off aliens, then makes peace with them and joins in a native ceremony that threatens to turn him into a tree. Moves further into the surreal as it turns out the first team are now all trees that meditate for eternity, except for the one that is a giant parrot translating psychic language from space. Claybourne barely manages to cure himself of the parasite that would turn him into a tree and then wonders if he would have just died, or if he'd have been missing something.
"An alien mega-parrot," Claybourne whispered. Amazing.

The ending is fairly strong in its ambiguity, but the rest of the story is weak. For one thing, the whole tale sounds like it is from the 60s and I can't help but imagine the protagonist as a young William Shatner as he beats up a bunch of aliens empty-handed. The dialog is more wooden than the trees, and distractingly jumps between different modes of speaking for the same characters. Then there's the protagonist's constant spewing out his odds of survival, which I have several problems with: it distracts from the story, seems misplaced because he is clearly no math whiz, and HOW IN HELL IS HE CALCULATING ODDS, they just seem really inconsistent, then the random change from percentages to fractions is just additional frustration, because who comes up with a system for calculating the odds of everything but just changes units at random like that. Must have been the hallucinogens.
"What happened to the woman I once loved and who tried to convert me to a mystical religion?"
"Nothing bad happened." Margery's thoughts felt like her voice, a creamy alto, rich in feminine nuances, just as Claybourne remembered her speaking. "I remade myself, and I'm in heaven."
"You're a tree, Margery, a tree rooted in foreign soil on an alien world."

If only the author could have approached the rest of that story with that same sense of resigned exasperation. The mystical crap spewed out by the trees and parrot for half the story just doesn't do anything for me. Asshole linguist Ramex (we're back to naming people like pharmaceuticals in this future) turning into asshole giant psychic parrot Magus-Of-Stars really could have used...something. Yes this whole story is surreal and crazy, but a reason or any kind of explanation of why he is so different that he is a parrot instead of a tree would have been nice. And the fact that I just typed that sentence really says it all. 1 out of 5 sentences in this story made any damn sense.

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