Monday, October 3, 2011

Leech Run

Short Story by Scott W. Baker
Read for Escape Pod by Alasdair Stuart (Audio & Text free online)

A very cinematic feel. It's neat, but at times the point-of-view is frustrating. We mostly follow Captain Titan as he investigates a disappearance from among his contraband human cargo. 'Leeches' are human mutants who are shot on sight aboard ships and seem to have few rights planetside. They are particularly dangerous to transport due to the ability to drain all power from a ship's systems, and Titan provides the rare service of smuggling them.

But throughout the story, Titan always knows twice as much as the reader, despite being the point of view character. On one hand, we are informed of his emotions and reasons for doing some things, but reasons for other things are kept entirely hidden, certain actions not mentioned until after the fact (The story climaxes with a bit of "Oh, I did that ten minutes ago"), we are never allowed to see or know half the things we ought to for fair storytelling. Baker is playing games with the reader, distorting the narrative and point of view to keep a big surprise hidden until the halfway point. This annoys me even more in literature than it does in film. Even if we don't know the character's key bit of backstory, we should at least see what action he takes and get to see him acting as if he knew the thing he knew, instead of hiding so many facts from readers.

Anyway, it is a pretty engaging bit of mystery and space-operatic suspense. World-building and tension are high in the first half, with fun characters bantering and acting smugglery. And the ending is good, except that the sudden reveal of what Titan knew all along makes his escape a bit of a cop-out and his previous actions seem not-that-smart. And again, the final climax is neat, but resolved by way of deus-ex-I-did-this-offscreen-ten-minutes-ago-and-now-you-see-how-smart-I-am-via-flashback.

Narratively, a few points really really annoy me about this story, and I'm not always the biggest fan of Space Adventure stories anyway, but the setting, Leech powers, banter, and high tension take it up to another level, after I'd knocked it down a bit from neutral, it evens out to being just below average.

2.5 Energy-sucking Space Pirates out of 5.

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