Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond

Review: “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen) SP

Short story. Sad Puppy nominee. Major spoilers.

A samurai with a magic sword and a magic knife connected to his soul finds a really huge monster, which he calls a kaiju. The monster is very destructive – there are lots of descriptions of entrails and limbs in this story – so he climbs up its back, which is a lot like a terrain and is quite confusing because I sometimes couldn't work out if the samurai was describing Magic Japan or the kaiju's back, and falls in its ear(?), breaking a leg nastily as he does so. He realizes that the "massive, green, pulsing lump of flesh" or "pulsing bit of flesh" (is it a bit, or a lot?) is the monster's brain, but it is too big to saw away at with his sword, so he stabs the monster's brain with his sword and commits suicide the seppuku way with his knife. This kills the monster, yay. I don't know why.

Discussion: Either this is a very clever metaphor that totally escaped me, or it's not very good. Judging by the writing, it's probably the latter.

I'm very happy that this voter's packet contains the entire Baen Big Book of Monsters, though, as it'll certainly help me decide on best short form editor. This story is going in the 'too lightly edited' column.

Sample quotes:

Fresh description:
When I managed to sit up partially to look at myself, I noticed my leg bent sharply away from me at an angle impossible in nature.
More groundbreaking narrative: 
I could almost hear the terrified wails of the children as I imagined the ground being broken and churned under the beast’s passing.
Relative importance of pain: 
Pain is nothing. It is simply a feeling, like hunger, or worry. It can be tolerated and banished with proper discipline. There are demons that live off that pain, that thrive off their victims succumbing to it. So I feel no pain. I do not just ignore it, for that implies a recognition that it was there to begin with.

The pain was the worst I had ever felt previously. It was a pain that, even as a samurai, I
was unable to ignore.
Watch those commas, among other things: 
When I regained consciousness, I was in a glowing green room, giant and smooth along every visible wall. The space was not hollow, but at its center was a massive, green, pulsing clump of flesh. From it, hundreds of darker green, stringy, muscle lines connected the flesh to the walls of the cavern.


Steve Wright said...

(Catching up with people's reviews. While trying to avoid spoilers for the remaining stuff I haven't read....)

I think the death of the monster is meant to be done with sympathetic magic - the samurai metaphysically links himself to the monster by inserting his sword in its brain, so when he kills himself, his death also becomes its.

Decent idea, not terribly well executed, in my opinion.

Lyle Hopwood said...

Thanks, but I still don't really get it. He talks about his sword what it means to his life a bit up front but it doesn't accurately foreshadow what happens at the end. It's a reasonable story for a small press type magazine but I'm not getting Hugo vibes. (I think we're on the same wavelength there.)

Steve Wright said...

The idea of the samurai's sword being a symbol or an extension of his/her soul... seems to be quite common in Japanese-based fantasy; I'm not sure it's an authentic Japanese idea, though. If anything, a sword in Japanese tradition expresses the personality of the maker, not the wielder - cf. the legends of the swordsmiths Masamune and Muramasa.

And yes, I agree this one isn't awards calibre. (I just yesterday read "Jackalope Wives", and I really don't see anything in the current short story category standing that comparison.)

Lyle Hopwood said...

Hmm. (Goes in search of "Jackalope Wives".)


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