Oct 2009
Roses from Poo Poo
Posted in Musings by Lieb at 2:07 pm | No Comments »

 A long time ago I read a short story which shouldn’t really have been any good.  It was called "The Flesh Man," and read with a certain perspective, it probably qualifies as basically pornography with a side of brooding pulp machismo.  I wouldn’t begrudge anyone that interpretation, at least.   The story’s not really that shocking, although certainly filthy, with a single-minded and irredeemable protagonist like a mongrel Doc Savage who lost his heroing years to a string of Bangkok whorehouses.  That’s not entirely accurate because the story is set in Mexico, but you get the idea.

The first time I read it I didn’t think it was going anywhere, which is no reason not to sit through a couple pages of sex and murder – which is good, because about three quarters in something happened that made everything snap into place like a rewinding tape measure.  I understood that every grimy gear turned exactly in time, like a music box dredged from the muck and human sewage at the bottom of the Hudson which, when activated, plays Frank Zappa.  The premise was unremarkable and the execution almost deliberately off-putting, but when I got it, the mastery of its construction was dazzling.  I try to remember that story when I read something that doesn’t snag me at first blush, because it reminds me that even things that shouldn’t work, that logically should be terrible, are sometimes, inexplicably, really great.

This is the spirit with which I recommend Charles Stross’s Missile Gap.  The elements at work – premise, setting, characters, everything really – it’s like they’re designed to kill the story before it ever starts.  Even the things that seem pretty awesome under independent consideration, like Yuri Gagarin flying a mammoth ekranoplan over an alien ocean through a lightning storm, shouldn’t work in context.  Any context.  The story is a conspiracy against itself, like a baby made completely of cancer.  The crazy thing is how the cancer baby doesn’t just not die, it grows up to have superpowers.  Loved it.

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