George And The Winged Dragons?

[ Lees dit in het Engels ]

A very extensive review appeared in The Levant yesterday of Robert N. Stephenson’s anthology Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Vol.IV. The reviewer had some surprising things to say about my story The Life and Death of George Hayes:

This is a very good story. It’s beautifully written and deals with the Faustian choice between facing up to death or trying to cheat it. The hero, Mr Hayes, heads off to what I assume is the Galapagos searching for the fountain of youth or elixir of life, relying on secret annals of Darwin, encountering enchanted characters that try and dissuade him off his mission. He does experiments to see if the immortality solution works and discovers its negative consequences and calls it a day, and reconciles himself to his estranged loved ones and in a way that is not clichéd in the slightest.

I assume the winged insect he conducts the experiment on is a reference to angels, hence the women he encounters with their heavenly mission. But it still would have been nicer if he got cured and reconciled himself along the way too.

I disagree with almost everything the reviewer says, but I can’t complain: once a story is out in the world, the reader owns it, and at least this reader loved it.

For the record, though:

  • No, it’s not the Galapagos, but the Azores.
  • There is not a single enchanted character in the entire story. In fact, my protagonist meets only one character of any kind (who, admittedly, is enchantING).
  • Ending on the protagonist cured would nullify the whole point of the story.
  • And while finding metaphors in stories is entirely the reader’s mandate, I didn’t think for a moment that the mayflies my protagonist catches refer to anything but insects with a very limited lifespan.

This last thing happens a lot to my stories: readers and reviewers finding metaphors in places where I didn’t leave them.

For instance, in Prisoner of War, a world-wide war has broken out between adults and children, and the story follows a group of grownups holed up in a medieval castle besieged by bloodthirsty kids. One reviewer in particular loved the story, but raved about the castle’s curtain wall and moat as metaphor for the generation gap. I can see how you can take that from the story, but there was no point in the story’s creation that I ever thought “hm, let’s put in a generation gap metaphor”.

But like I said, finding meaning is the reader’s province, and both reviewers loved the respecitve stories, perhaps even loved them more for their metaphors. I’m not complaining.