by Robert McCammon
The short story is the red-headed stepchild of literature. Science Fiction is the geeky teenage tenant than lives in the basement. Together, they amount to vitually zero.
In the introduction to Stephen King's collection of short stories Everything's Eventual, he laments the slow demise of the short story, especially within the genres of horror and science fiction (well, of course he would... I doubt Stephen King would lament the demise of romance novels). I couldn't agree more. Oh sure, you can find all sorts of short fiction in things like Atlantic Monthly and Harper's, but that a whole different ballgame and usually concerns some writer recalling some isolated moment from their childhood in an oh so whimsical fashion. There's not a single alien or swamp creature to be found in THOSE pages. Gone are the glory days of short story magazines such as The Twilight Zone and Terror Tales. Not that I was a subscriber to these publications as a kid. I would have, though, if I wasn't so busy collecting baseball cards.
But I do have a special relationship with the short story (and Stephen King for that matter). Allow me to flashback...
My first exposure to short stories and Stephen King was Skeleton Crew. For whatever reason, the hardcover edition of this monster was sitting around my house for a dog's age around the time I turned 13. I'm going to assume that my mother, who is an avowed Stephen King fanatic had just finished reading it, or was about to read it. I say assume because I have never known my mother to buy or even be in possession of a hardcover before or since, so it was a very slight mystery.
I remember that the dust-jacket was a picture one of those mechanical monkeys with the hat and cymbals and it coincided with a third rate horror movie release called Monkey Shines. (Is there anything written by Stephen King that wasn't made into a movie?) By 13 I was already a card-carrying fan of horror movies. Sure they still gave me nightmares, but it was like a rite of passage to sit through them. Every one more of them you watched was a feather in your cap. I still hadn't discovered taste, however, and didn't see the difference between Night of the Living Dead and Sleepaway Camp III.
At 13 I wasn't the reader I am today. I was often scared off by the volume of books because I was 13 and I wanted instant gratification. If I couldn't finish it in a sitting, I wasn't interested. And 500 page books were not nearly as interesting as the TV. But, when it occured to me that this massive tome with the creepy cover sitting on the bookshelf was a book of short stories (and possibly scary at that) I slipped it in my backpack the day before I went on a camping trip with my best friend where there would be no TV.
Without even referring to Wikipedia I can still recall some of those stories: "The Mist," "Gramma" and (of course) "The Monkey."
But the one that always torments me in my weaker moments was a little science fiction number called "The Jaunt." It's essentially a retelling of the history of matter transference as told by a father to his curious son. The majority of the story is interesting enough, but not in the least bit scary, but the payoff (while I will not recap) left me sleepless in a tent for nights on that camping trip and is one of the books (stories) that I credit when anyone cares to ask how I developed my love for reading.
Blue World by Robert McCammon had some really interesting moments, some of which reminded me of that camping trip (I read this while lounging on the beach on Bohol Island in the Philippines). More science fiction (yay!) and less horror (aww...) but, because they are short stories, the plots move nice and quick for those in need of instant gratification (I'm still 13 on the inside).
So here's to red-headed step-children and geeks in the basement. And here's to sleepless nights while on vacation.