Monday, October 27, 2014

Miles and Miles -- Or Maybe Not

The digital publishing revolution has created an enormous range of new markets for writers, and potential sources for readers to get their daily fix of the eyeball drug known as reading. Freed of the inelasticities of print-on-paper publishing, writers no longer are forced to compete for a limited number of slots, and as a result, even those platforms that do have some level of editorial gatekeeping often shift to a model in which they accept all the stories that appeal to them, rather than only a set number that appeal most.

This shift means that stories that probably would've been turned away for lack of broad appeal can get published, and thus can find those readers to whom they strongly appeal. However, it also can mean that stories that probably shouldn't have been published, or weren't quite ready for publication,  can get published simply because there's plenty of room. These aren't necessarily bad stories, although some of them are badly written. But many of them just needed a little more thought, a little more attention to asking the next question and following through instead of taking the easy way out. And in some ways a promising but badly executed story is more frustrating to read than an outright clunker.

Take for instance Alan Shepard's Golf Ball by Pierre Comtois. It starts out strong, with our protagonist finding a golf ball lying in the moondust of the baseball diamond outside the lunar settlement where he and his family live. (We can argue about how realistic it is to imagine kids suiting up to play baseball on the lunar surface, but it looks to me like nostalgia for the futures imagined in Heinlein's early short stories, or the best of the 1950's recycled In Space). At first he's not all that interested in it, because he'd rather be playing his future version of MMORPG's with his friends, but when his father finds the golf ball and asks some questions, it piques his curiosity enough to do some research.

He locates a video clip of Alan Shepard's famous golf shots at the close of the second Apollo 14 EVA, and is curious enough to actually read an account of Shepard's life and career in those early days of space travel. Inspired by Shepard's story but disappointed that he is long deceased, our protagonist decides that some bit of Shepard's spirit must live on in his descendants, and resolves to meet them and give the golf ball to them.

Here's where the story falls apart. It looks like we're going to be treated to a grand quest that will end in a meeting with a stranger who will become a friend, or maybe even a reconciliation with a difficult rival. But no, it just so happens that our protagonist's family are the last known descendants of Alan Shepard -- but nobody's ever bothered to mention that personal connection with one of space travel's founding fathers. Instead of a grand finale, we get a cop-out, and end up feeling let down rather than delighted.

Which makes me feel sad, because there was so much promise in that story that could've been brought out with a little more thought instead of taking the easy way out in the haste to get the story finished.

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