Monday, August 8, 2011

A Witness to All That Was

Short Story by Scott William Carter

I should probably remark on style more often, but in much of the SF I read, style floats under the radar. I whine about Kristine Kathryn Rusch's plotting or serialization addiction, but the fact is, she's a competent stylist and I never mention it. This is true for a number of my negative reviews, and sometimes my positive reviews are pushed up half a point further because I'm impressed with the style, but I don't always mention that either. Style is something we take for granted. A few writers, your Zelaznys and your Kij Johnsons stand out as excellent. Most SF writers are decent, not bad, not superlative. This is one of those stories that makes me realize what I'm taking for granted.

The poor writing is about the only thing that stands out about this unremarkable, sentimental short story. A bitter married couple fight in a spaceship. He's an uncommunicative idiot, she's pretty shrewish herself, and they're both mourning the loss of a child. Their marriage falls apart on a desolate little planet where they find a robot, who talks to them and gives them hope. The forward momentum is made entirely from misleading flashbacks/flashforwards between this and another storyline. Cheap tricks from the author make the two threads seem connected. It turns out they aren't and then it turns out they very slightly are. But the curiosity about what exactly the author is doing with this other story thread is the main driving force of the story, and as I said earlier in this very issue of Analog, that is not a good thing. The writing isn't downright awful, my complaints also extend to a nothing plot, artificial narration tricks, and unearned sappiness. On the other hand, I'll forget this one by tomorrow. No harm, no foul.

1.5 space-divorces out of 5.

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