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Thursday, January 23, 2014

“Night Train to Paris” by David Gerrold

Appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan./Feb. 2013. It is on the Bram Stoker award's preliminary ballot.

The story begins in an authorial voice, blending fact and fiction, leaving to wonder, "Did this happen?" It is reminiscent of Orson Scott Card's powerful Lost Boys..The danger might be if the author sees himself as an average joe, and the fiction becomes bland. Not here. The voice here is enjoyably observational, distinctive:
"I confess, I do not read many works of pseudo-medieval fantasy... wandering into questions of physicality. Nobody wakes up the morning after a battle aching and bruised, in too much pain to move. Nobody's wounds get infected.... everybody is leaping eagerly into bed with everybody else, and nobody ever catches a sexually transmitted disease. You never hear about the fleas and the either. Or the pox."
"Shortly, I discovered why you cannot read for long in a train station.... My best defense against a pickpocket is to wear an angry scowl and a photographer's vest with a multitude of zippered compartments.... there is no equally effective defense against panhandlers.
"In my imagination, the Milanese beggars have organized themselves into some kind of Mendicants Guild, all working the same route through the train station, spacing themselves a five minute intervals."
Great voice, in fact. I could quote other passages.

The narrator is photographer as well and takes various pictures of the train. He bumps into Claudio who tells about the mystery of the train. A creature haunts the train, chasing, hunting among the passengers, Claudio says. They talk about the possibility of it being serial killer or a bird-headed monster. Is it a joke? Later, the narrator looks at his photos, all of which don't turn out except one, the one of Claudio.

The voice is cool, and the strange, lurking speculative horror works effectively. They don't accentuate one another, but it's worth the reading.

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