Over the past several years, I’ve embarked on a series of year-long review cycles at Black Gate. In 2018, I reviewed a story-a-day to coincide with an author whose birthday it was. In 2022, I selected stories completely at random from my collection to review. In both of those cases, the projects served to find forgotten and minor works of science fiction that spanned a range of years. They also served to make me read stories and authors who I haven’t read before, even if they were in my collection.
For this year’s project, I’ve compiled a list of all the stories and novels in my collection. I then identified the first and last works for each letter of the alphabet and over the next twelve months, I’ll be looking at those works of fiction, starting with Vance Aandahl’s “Bad Luck” and ending with David Lee Zweifler’s “Wasted Potential.” Looking at the 52 works (two for each letter), I find that I’ve only reviewed one of the works previously. Interestingly, given the random nature of the works, only three novels made the list, while four anthologies have multiple stories on the list. The works range in publication date from 1911’s “The Hump,” by Fernan Caballero to Zweifler’s story from last year.
The final story in my collection by an author whose name begins with an A is Alex Azar’s “Fire in the Dark,” which appeared in the anthology Wyrms, edited by Eric Fomley in 2022. Wyrms is a collection of drabbles, a literary format in which a story is told in exactly 100 words. In the interest of transparency, I should note that my story “Best Policy” also appears in Wyrms. I’ll also note the last word of this sentence (including the introduction) is the 300th word of this article.
So I’ve already written three times as many words about “Fire in the Dark” than exist in the story without actually saying anything about it.
Brondask is described as a hero, a soldier who is attempting to retrieve the stolen crest of his family. His quest takes him into a cavern that is home to a great beast whose very exhalations can shake the stony walls. Brondask’s description raises questions. Is the crest that he is trying to retrieve metaphorical or physical? If it is physical an in a dragon’s hoard, does that mean that an unmentioned relative had previously entered the dragon’s lair and been killed? If the crest is metaphorical, what crime or act of cowardice did Brondask commit to cause him to lose face, although Azar specifically describes Brondask as brave.
In only a few words, Azar describes Brondask’s voyage through the caverns, a long and arduous task, which means that when his torch eventually sputters out, he is in no real condition to face the dragon whose lair he has invaded. Not all heroic quests end well for the heroes.
However, “Fire in the Dark” spotlights both the strengths and the weaknesses of the drabble form. Azar is unable to provide too many details about Brondask’s situation or background, merely sketching them in. However, like an incomplete tune that causes an earworm (earwyrm?) a well-crafted drabble can get stuck in the readers mind as they try to fill in the missing elements and “Fire in the Dark” does give the reader plenty of space to expand the story Azar writes.
Steven H Silver is a twenty-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for eight years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference six times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.