" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Stories that make you go Wow. Morning Child by Gardner Dozois


Early Tuesday morning, during a spell of insomnia, I was reading James Davis Nicoll's article on Tor.com about the Science Fiction Book Club, Six Bulky Classics Delivered by the Science Fiction Book Club


 when I encountered a link for the Gardner Dozois story "Morning Child" in the comments. Thank you from me as well, Sophie Jane.


Sometimes you start reading and you just know this is going to be sad, this is going to be poignant, this is going to be powerful. Your going to remember this for a long time. This story was all those things within a couple of paragraphs. 

"The old house had been hit by something sometime during the war and mashed nearly flat. The front was caved in as though crushed by a giant fist: wood pulped and splintered, beams protruding at odd angles like broken fingers, the second floor collapsed onto the remnants of the first. The rubble of a chimney covered everything with a red mortar blanket. On the right, a gaping hole cross-sectioned the ruins, laying bare all the strata of fused stone and plaster and charred wood—everything curling back on itself like the lips of a gangrenous wound. Weeds had swarmed up the low hillside from the road and swept over the house, wrapping the ruins in wildflowers and grapevines, softening the edges of destruction with green."

Williams brings the boy John here (the house they once lived in before it was destroyed) almost every day. He gathers plants for food while John plays.

'John erupted out of the tall weeds and ran laughing to where Williams stood with the foraging bags. “I been fighting dinosaurs!” John said. “Great big ones!” Williams smiled crookedly and said, “That’s good.” He reached down and rumpled John’s hair. They stood there for a second, John panting like a dog from all the running he’d been doing, his eyes bright,'

Then gathering done they proceed to their camp by the river to cut wood and pull in the fish nets. Their walk is uneventful, Willams limping a bit from the load. In their whole long journey to return to this area they have never encountered another person.  

 “Can I help you carry the bags?” John said eagerly. “Can I? I’m big enough!” Williams smiled at him and shook his head. “Not yet, John,” he said. “A little bit later, maybe.”

It is clear by the time night falls all is not well with John, or the with the world "Somewhere on the invisible horizon, perhaps a hundred miles away, a pillar of fire leapt up from the edge of the world."

The story first appeared in Onmi and is available free on Lightspeed. Don't read about it, read it and let me know what you think. I loved this story, I need to do a list of my favourites and put this high on it.

My take:

Dozois has written a fairly compact story, the action takes place within a single day. Details about the characters or events are minimal. The story relies on mood, atmosphere and the evidence of the affection between the Williams and John to convey the story and provide the emotional weight for the resolution. If I had to compare "Morning Child" to other works, I would suggest the stories of Ray Bradbury or the moody black and white episodes of The Outer Limits, where bittersweet joy, horror and nostalgia bleed through into our world and tinge our futures. Dozois leaves many questions unanswered in this story, but after I thought about it for some time I realized the only important question was, how long?

I know there is a copy of Geodesic Dreams: The Best Short Fiction of Gardner Dozois around here somewhere and I need to dig it out. 

Cover image from ISFDB: Omni, January 1984 by Tim White (variant of Ring Around the Sun 1979)

No comments:

Post a Comment