Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Incarceration of Captain Nebula

Short Story by Mike Resnick

Captain Nebula is a patient in an insane asylum. The story is told through his inner commentary and the notes of his doctor. Apparently a patient mysteriously dropped off in the middle of the night, he has remarkably self-consistent delusions of his life as a superhero secretly protecting Earth, and the evil forces out to get him. His doctor is unable to convince Captain Nebula of reality, and comes to admire his nobility. And then, at the end, we're rather ham-handedly informed that evil has won, and his delusions were all reality.

I like the musing on how we can't be sure of what is real, and the warnings of a real superhero might be impossible to differentiate from the ramblings of a madman. But this ground has already been covered fairly well before, Resnick doesn't offer up a lot of new insights in this hundredth tribute to the pulps of the year. And perhaps more importantly, the story-telling style seems inconsistent and unfair to the reader. We can hear Nebula's internal dialog, which could very well be what a crazy person thinks. We can also read the notes of the doctor and his letters and reports. Fair enough, maybe Nebula is reading them later, or maybe we have an omniscient narrator. But we hear nothing to corroborate Nebula's supposed delusion until the very end, where we are merely informed that it is true, by characters we've never seen evidence of before. Either introduce the reality of the delusion earlier, thus building tension when Nebula can't prove it, or provide some more ambiguous proof, or something at least fair to the reader.

I like the climax to this story, it isn't exactly what I expected, but the revelation afterward seems weirdly unfair. I wished we'd not just suddenly jumped to a perspective that could confirm or deny Nebula's beliefs. It could have been introduced in a way that fit with the types of information we were already privy to. Or it could have been a little bit ambiguous. Or we could have been privy to a wider variety of information before the last paragraph of the story. Either way, I like the climax, but the ending itself is awfully weak.

3 delusional superheros out of 5.

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