Size / / /

In the fiction writer's bag of tricks there's a surefire technique for garnering sympathy for a character: show them reading something. You may know nothing else about your audience, but you're guaranteed that they, too, are also reading something.

Captain January, main character of The Lucky Strike, is a reader; has been his whole life. This is the source of his trouble. We see early on his sense of empathy, his ability to put himself in the other fella's shoes. This is an important skill necessary for reading comprehension, but Captain January is fighting a war, and empathy is not in high demand, and that's gonna cause trouble.

This is alt-history, and you might expect this clear reader stand-in to be your proxy through a gritty fantasy, a sort of peacenik Lest Darkness Fall. But The Lucky Strike, having grabbed your empathy for a fellow reader, doesn't use it for easy gratification; it uses it to put you through hell.

January spends the middle of the story stuck in his own head, tormenting himself with the reader's toolkit he developed reading the Saturday Evening Post. His skill at tying together stray bits of symbolism, guessing and second-guessing plot twists... he can work rhetorical magic like nobody's business, but it's not actually helping him. In true alt-history fashion, fate has conspired to make January the lever-man at the fulcrum of modern history, but can he change anything? The human mind with its churning and planning and self-justification... it's just another unreliable piece in the machinery of history, which is dominated by accidents and errors.

The story's brilliant final metaphor offers a clue: maybe the best we can do is minimize our own complicity. Robinson suggests this more explicitly in his own essay A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions, which is worth checking out if you liked The Lucky Strike. But another lesson of The Lucky Strike is: all these little, random decisions add up. Anyone who's thought "they'll just get someone else to do it" might take courage from the idea that "they" might have already tried and failed to find someone willing to do it.




Leonard Richardson has a taste for adventure. His first novel, Constellation Games, is published by Candlemark & Gleam. To contact him, send him email at leonardr@segfault.org. For more about him and his work, see his website.
Sumana Harihareswara is senior technical writer at the Wikimedia Foundation.
Current Issue
21 Sep 2020

Quiet 
The day the last qawwal was killed, my childhood city, already known for its lethal silence, for its censorship of words, for its refusal to listen, went into a deep deep quiet.
Podcast: Quiet 
By: Aqdas Aftab
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Anaea Lay presents Aqdas Aftab's “Quiet.”
Back Story 
You like that every single word, image, and idea in my poetry has meaning and is put there for a reason, so when you ask about the plant in my poem and need to know more about it. . .
Podcast: Back Story 
By: David Clink
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents David Clink's “Back Story.”
Wednesday: Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer 
Friday: The Supernova Era by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen 
Issue 14 Sep 2020
By: Fargo Tbakhi
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jenny Blackford
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 7 Sep 2020
By: Catherynne M. Valente
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Bethany Powell
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Bethany Powell
Issue 31 Aug 2020
By: R.B. Lemberg
By: Julia Rios
By: Sonya Taaffe
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: R.B. Lemberg
Podcast read by: Julia Rios
Podcast read by: Sonya Taaffe
Issue 24 Aug 2020
By: Leslie J. Anderson
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Leslie J. Anderson
Issue 17 Aug 2020
By: Emma Törzs
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Liz Adair
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 10 Aug 2020
By: Anya Johanna DeNiro
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Laura Cranehill
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 3 Aug 2020
By: Christine Lucas
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Christine Lucas
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Krishnakumar Sankaran
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Krishnakumar Sankaran
Issue 20 Jul 2020
By: Ranylt Richildis
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: JD Fox
By: JD Fox
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: JD Fox
17 Jul 2020
Strange Horizons is now accepting fiction submissions for our Mexico Special issue, which will be published at the end of November 2020!
17 Jul 2020
Strange Horizons lanza su convocatoria en busca textos narrativos para su Especial de México, que se publicará a finales de noviembre de 2020!
Load More
%d bloggers like this: