Saturday, 2 July 2011

Short Fiction Corner | "Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box" by Mira Grant

A couple of months back, Orbit Short Fiction blinked into existence.

There was much ado about the programme before its launch, and I'm sure it's been getting by alright, but from where I'm sitting, I've seen precious little about Orbit Short Fiction since.

So, between very much enjoying Feed, and very much looking forward to enjoying Deadline just as soon as I can put away a few evenings to do the second book of the Newsflesh justice, I bought - for buttons - a copy Mira Grant's hot short. Coming in at under 4,000 words, "Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box" sounded just the ticket to tide me over.

My mistake...

"Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box" is about a group of friends who have been meeting up every Friday night for all their adult lives to roleplay the end of the world. Every week, one of the friends paints a picture of the apocalypse, and the others must decide how they'd overcome it - or at the very least else survive it. On the 683rd such evening, Cole, in absentia, presents a viral scenario that would be bog standard were it not for its cold, hard plausibility.

"It's just sick," says one of the gang as the tape recorder containing Cole's last message to them plays out. Suddenly her absence seems conspicuous, and alarm bells start ringing... but it is already too late?

Well, yes. Yes it is.

"Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box" is executed with all the accessibility we've come to expect from Mira Grant - the pseudonym of urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire - but precious little of the panache. And the payoff, whether in terms of narrative or character, is sadly something of a nothing.

Evidently unequal to the task of communicating personality or import in such a short space of time, Grant resorts to an old and exhausted formula: there is the set-up, then the explication, then the reveal. Apocalypse twist!

And there's some dreadfully clumsy composition, most notably:

"Cole stopped again before starting back up, sounding more and more like a broken marionette."

I mean, really? Seriously?  I'm not often so pedantic - and it's a perfectly appropriate image, I'll give Grant that - but exactly how does one sound like a broken marionette? Methinks someone should have returned this simile to sender...

In the end, "Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box" is a neat idea, and not a great deal else. It could have made for an fine bonus feature in one or another of Grant's novels, but as it is, sold as a standalone short story, "Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box" is slight and not at all satisfying. But at a buck (or $2) for a bit of fun, you know; easy come, easy go.

Now where could my copy of Deadline have gotten to...

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