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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Coming in SS#23: “They Call Me Charon,” by Gary Pattinson

 

Artwork ©2021 Jonathan Semones
Gary Pattinson writes: 

“This short story grew out of my noodling over an SF novel idea. The novel’s heroine was to be exiled from Arc City in a highly public event at the city’s gates. I riffed off of the Charon of Greek mythology and envisioned this old roughened cop who’d become a kind of celebrity, escorting the exiled from the city in much pomp and ceremony. I decided I’d write a short story from Charon’s point of view and see what would happen when he exiled a young woman branded as a revolutionary. 

“With the first sentence, Charon just took over. He not only insisted on speaking in first person, but also in present tense of all things. He was urgent yet thoughtful, violent but constrained, and his surprises for me didn’t end there. I hope readers enjoy the story.”

Bruce Bethke adds:

I’m pretty sure our readers will. It’s a stark, dark future story, yet leavened with hope. It’s a tightly focused story with just two speaking characters, whose conflict has been years in the making but is now coming to a head and must be resolved one way or the other, and I was pretty much hooked from the first paragraphs:

The citizens of Ark City call me Charon.

Tier upon tier, the citizens assemble on the spectator stands towering behind the zap-barriers. Charon, Charon, their chants reverberate within the city’s glass walls, against the brushed steel gates at my back. Their lust for justice charges the air, and energizes me. I deal the justice of our conglomerate overseers, and I alone escort the walking dead over the river to their exile. I play this role with relish even today, when justice falls on the one woman I hold dear to my heart and purpose. 

My Face-unit singles out ID chips in the stands. Her supporters mingle with the cheering citizens, and prowl like caged animals behind the zap-barriers, impotent in their rage. I feel their eyes upon me and savor their anger. It feeds me. It gives me hope.

A low tone and a flashing icon on my vision’s edge warns me the hover-van approaches from the prison deep within Ark City.

At last, she comes...

Characters, conflict, stakes: all established with a few deft strokes. The problem is that it’s easy to write a good beginning to a story, especially if the author is thinking in terms of the novel they intend the story to evolve into some day. We see a lot of stories in the slush pile that start off with great beginnings but then either fizzle out and collapse into a puddle of meaningless mush, or worse, should have as the last line in the manuscript not “The End” but “To Be Continued...” because the author so obviously intends this to be the first chapter in a much longer work. So all the way through my first read of the manuscript I had this nagging worry in the back of my mind: will Pattinson actually end this story, or will he leave the characters hanging with the conflict unresolved? 

Obviously, “They Call Me Charon” delivers the goods, with an ending that is both surprising and satisfying, and I’m proud to be bringing it to you in Stupefying Stories #23.

About the illustration: 

As we were working through the copy-editing and production process, Gary surprised me again by showing me this illustration that a young relative of his had drawn to go with the story and asking if I might be able to use it. I was delighted to see it. We’d been having some trouble finding the right art to go with this story and I thought this drawing, while a bit rough, nailed it right on the head. It reminds me very much of the way Carlos Ezquerra drew Judge Dredd way back in the dawn of time. Therefore, in another Stupefying Stories first, we are delighted to bring you the first published artwork by Jonathan Semones. We hope to see more from him as his talent matures.

And now, the author’s photo and bio:

Gary Pattinson read his first space opera when he was nine years old. Weaned on fairy tales and hero adventures, he primarily writes fantasy and science fiction. He was a denizen of the now extinct Liberty Hall Writers. His first publication came in Ray Gun Revival when he won the Space Monkey Flash Fiction Contest (under a nom de plume). Since then, his fiction has appeared on Drabblecast, Horizon, Every Day Fiction, and in the anthologies LocoThology: Tales of Fantasy & Science Fiction 2012 (V2), The Museum of All Things Awesome and That Go Boom, and Alternate Hilarities: Hysterical Realms (v3).

Gary is a software engineer who has built scary things that self-heal and self-organize. From a family of lifelong learners, he is a devoted husband, Dad, and Granddad who enjoys family history, fossils, and gardening with his wife.

1 comment:

LJS3 said...

Certainly sounds interesting, and yes, I certainly got a Judge Dredd feel from the text and plot overview. Love the artwork, too. That kid's got talent.