Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Wednesday Short: Cedar Sanderson's Stargazer

I have a real affection for short fiction. Indeed, I've written a fair amount -- though it's all fanfiction, so I'm not sure it really counts. Short fiction, in my view, requires a somewhat different approach. Because you have fewer pages in which to accomplish your objectives, you have to economize -- which forces you to think more carefully about your word choices.

The history of sci-fi/fantasy boasts some damned fine short fiction writers. Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein -- all of them accomplished some amazing things in less than a hundred pages (or sometimes less than twenty). Alas, these days, the short fiction market seems to be overrun with pretentious pseudo-sci-fi/fantasy masquerading as the real thing. The few gems - like Brad Torgersen - are the exceptions that prove the rule.

But perhaps my impression is wrong; perhaps I need to work harder to find the short fiction that's actually good. Which brings me to the purpose of my new feature: The Wednesday Short. From this week onward, I will be reviewing works that come in under a hundred pages every Wednesday night -- and maybe, along the way, I will discover reasons to have hope.

First on the docket: Cedar Sanderson's "Stargazer". "Stargazer" is the story of a mother whose options are few. Because she is hiding from her own government - and her own husband - she can't take a standard job or live in a proper home. Realizing that her children are suffering, she reaches out for help -- and in the process makes a great sacrifice.

This story is a teasing glimpse at a universe that absolutely begs for further development. When I finished it, I found myself wondering what happened next -- not to mention what brought Cedar's protagonist to her current desperate state. Without the full context, there were certain moments of the tale that felt slightly overwrought -- but when it comes to depicting the selfless nature of love, Cedar certainly does a much better job than does the author of a certain Nebula-winning short story, who cheaply manipulates her readers by playing on their worst instincts. And while "Stargazer" ends on a bittersweet note, it is still wholly worthy of the "Human Wave" label, as every character here is trying his or her best to do the right thing.

In sum? "Stargazer" is definitely worth dropping a buck. I can only pray that Cedar will revisit this particular universe and give us even more.

Final Verdict: Recommended.

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