Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Wednesday Short: Brad Torgersen's Picket Ship

I don't necessarily have a problem with dark and/or dystopic stories. At their best, said stories do communicate ideas that are both important and beautiful. But in a genre that is healthy and vibrant - in a genre that honestly connects with the reality of human nature - the light should be permitted to counterbalance the dark (or, to borrow from Jewish tradition, the yetzer hatov should be permitted to counterpose the yetzer hara). If everything in your story is grim and hopeless - if good never wins - then you, as a writer, have not tapped into something true.

In recent years, the sci-fi/fantasy genre seems to have lost sight of this critical need for balance -- and that's why I have become one of Brad Torgersen's most aggressive boosters. Brad, you see, doesn't wallow in the pit of pseudo-profound despair. Even when he destroys the world, he leaves open the possibility of resurrection and triumph. Case in point: "Picket Ship," a short story published by Baen to drum up interest in Brad's soon-to-be-released debut novel, The Chaplain's War. (Kindle users: The e-book is already available!)

Now, I'll be upfront: I think "Picket Ship" - which takes place elsewhere in the Chaplain-verse and features other characters - is only an average story for Brad. Even so, it still manages to display his refreshing optimism. The story opens with a group of stranded soldiers who are being pursued by a mantis patrol on the colony planet of New Earth -- which is currently losing its fight against the mantis fleet. The odds against our protagonists, in other words, couldn't be more astronomical -- and yet they manage to seize at least one significant victory. True -- there are costs. True -- New Earth is ultimately abandoned. But Amelia and the others leave knowing that their enemy is not invincible.

The David-vs-Goliath trope Brad uses here is very familiar -- but as I noted in Monday's post, the fact that something is a trope does not mean it is bad. Tropes are often tropes because they speak to essential longings in the human psyche; they persist because they are reflections of our deepest selves. And if you doubt that sympathy for the underdog is one of those authentically human impulses, then your anthropology is seriously warped.

Once again, I do think Brad has written better stories. But if, just once, you'd like to read something that concludes on a reasonably upbeat note, "Picket Ship" is a solid choice.

Final Verdict: Recommended. 

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