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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"The Wide, Carnivorous Sky" by John Langan from The Wide, Carnivorous Sky

Appeared John Joseph Adams' By Blood We Live. Reprinted in the Paula Guran's Year's Best.  The collection is up for the Bram Stoker award.

This is a brilliant examination of Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that works on many levels--that it's a vampire tale is icing on the thematic cake.

Four soldiers in Iraq encounter an eight-foot (what? shadow? bat?) thing that is blindingly fast. It shoots a psychic blast in their heads before attacking. What saves them is that it attacked others first, so they got away.

But they are not free of the beast. It lingers. Even after their tours of duty, they flash on the thing's consciousness, witness it attacking doomed victims in war-torn areas all over the world. When Davis, the handicapped narrator, discovers he has some mental control over the beast, the Iraq veterans decide to reunite and kill the beast once and for all.

The ending illuminates, perfectly executed to give us a sense of character the trouble ahead.

Although it varies the vampire trope, it may be best to read this outside of other vampire stories to appreciate its monster innovation. Its description fascinates by what it describes and what it leaves to the imagination. When the characters describe it, they are not precise, so we get a hazy view of the thing:  It's this but not really.

My only problem is that the characters live inside the creature and should have a better if vague understanding of what the creature is, what it does, where it's from, how it survives as a species, how it thinks.  While it may spoil aspects of PTSD, it undermines the primary narrative, and it is a critical gap. We don't have to know everything, but a sketch.

Worth reading.

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