Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.
I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I roll several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing. This week, I rolled 4,023 which turned out to be Bruce Coville’s short story “The Box.”
One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a personal point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.
“The Box” refers to a gift an angel has given to Michael when he was a young boy. The box wasn’t a gift, but rather a duty, for Michael was told to take good care of the box until the angel returned to retrieve it. Holding onto the box shaped his life from the time he received it through school, dating, work, and into old age.
Best known as a YA author, Coville won the Golden Duck Award in 1992 for his novel My Teacher Glows in the Dark, won it again in 2000 for I Was a 6th Grade Alien, and in 2006 won a Golden Duck for an audio production of Robert Heinlein’s novel Rolling Stones. His novels have twice been nominated for Mythopoeic Awards and in 2000, he received a Skylark Award from NESFA. He received the Empire State Award for Excellence in Literature for Young People from the New York Library Association in 2012.
“The Passing of the Pack” was originally written for the young adult anthology Werewolves: A Collection of Original Stories, edited by Jane Yolen and Martin H. Greenberg in 1988. Coville included the story in his collection Oddly Enough in 1994 and when that volume and its successor were collected in the omnibus Odds Are Good: An Oddly Enough and Odder Than Ever Omnibus, the story saw print again. In 2011, Coville issued the story as an e-book.
Throughout most of history, wolves have been seen as an enemy. They threaten the livestock on small villages and, when particularly hungry can also threaten humans. Bruce Coville channels that fear of wolves in the opening of “The Passing of the Pack,” which describes a wolf attack on a sixteen year old boy and then flashes back to the first time wolves attacked his village when he was five years old.
The story looks at the character’s life as a fatherless boy in a small village, specifically how he was treated almost as an outsider by the rest of the villagers. When he came to the defense of a girl he had befriended, the accusation of witchcraft against her was applied to him as well. By this time, Coville has shown an affinity for him by the wolves and his rescue by the animals is not really a surprise.