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Short Stories 365/364 | N.S. Beranek

“No More Heroes” by Jonathan Harper from Daydreamers (Lethe Press, 2015).

This volume will be released in March. I was given an advanced reader copy by the publisher.

First let me say that I can’t believe that yesterday, while talking about “We Only Flinch When It Isn’t Necessary,” I forgot to mention that Blade Runner is on continual play at Lunch Copeland’s house. It’s a great device that allows for comparisons between several of the characters and the film’s “replicants” (“androids” in the novel). I blame the omission on the mass quantities of cold medicine I’ve consumed over the past week and a day, as well as on the (medicine-induced?) insomnia of Wednesday and Thursday nights. Last night I took NyQuil, and it worked as promised. I’d hoped that this morning, having gotten many hours of rest, I would feel better. Before I could finish this post, though, I had to go back for more sleep.

Onward.

Richard is older than any of the protagonists in the previous stories. In his mid-thirties, he nevertheless hasn’t managed to find his professional footing. We’re told he has spent his time “accumulating master’s degrees in sociology and public health, teaching the occasional intro course, still trying to find stability as a researcher without the qualifications of a Ph.D.” That may be, but I have a good friend who remained in school until he was thirty and has been back once since. He’s one of those “most interesting” types Baz Luhrmann references in the commencement address more commonly known as “Wear Sunscreen.” I trust Richard is on that same path.

The story opens with six friends seated around a large table in the bar of a fancy mountain resort, playing a card-based game called Creature Coliseum: Battle Royale. They’re loud and irreverent, and the more conservative touristy-types surrounding them are on the verge of becoming a mob. It’s a great way to grab the reader’s attention while simultaneously painting a portrait of a handful of characters.

We’re told the group is merely warming up for a true RPG campaign later, and that they’ve been gaming together for years. The main character, Richard, tells us:

I was absorbed into this group in high school. Back then I was the anomaly: the lone queer boy with chunky braces and my own library of fantasy novels. Violent beatings and isolation were the tragedies of gay teenagers. That might have been my fate as well if I had not met Oliver. He had a way of collecting people, usually misfits, ostracized kids with nervous ticks and OCD. When he decided to become my friend, I felt pulled by the wrist and instantly indoctrinated.

I mentioned the other day that this was my experience, too, only in reverse. During elementary school I was a wallflower, but in my freshman year of high school I met a group of girls who’d gone to a different grammar school and lived near each other. They’d been friends for years. All three were lesbian. One of the three and I had a common interest in magick; the next thing I knew I was part of their group.

Years later it happened again. I was co-sysop of a BBS called The V.I.N.E. (The Vampire Information Network and Exchange, home of VampNet and the Immortal Coil ‘zine). The man I would eventually marry logged on to the board and then started showing up at the face-to-face meetings we held at a local coffeehouse. When he said he was a roleplay gamer, a group of gay neo-pagans I’d known from before the BBS days, who ran campaigns together, decided the folks from the face-to-face meetings should play Vampire the Masquerade. That game was instrumental in getting Rob and I together.

This story is a study in the effective use of knowledge gaps. The characters believe they know one another but have blind spots galore. In the course of the story they and the reader are handed a roadmap showing where the story is headed, but those blind spots render them unable to see the total picture. It’s a great piece to read multiple times, because you will keep seeing things you missed before.

About that. This project has gone over deadline because I’ve read every story multiple times. I don’t want to simply say I liked something or I didn’t; I want to grok each piece and say why it moved me or failed to do so. Before I got into this game I did not realize (and never would have believed) that people who will read your work and give you feedback are scarcer than hen’s teeth; that you can be published multiple times and still count on one hand the number of people who have read even one of your stories. Friends, family, and co-workers will rejoice each time something you’ve written is accepted for publication in a book or magazine, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to read a single word. As Steve Berman once wrote to me, pretending to voice the internal monologues of such people, “Reading is hard.”

There are great relationships in this story. Richard may not be “well-cemented into adulthood”, but he is empathetic and observant. He, Corey, Neil, and the two Ed Joneses are much more of a team outside the game than they realize, and more typecast in it, too. I’m tempted to say that all the years they’ve spent gaming together taught them the skills they needed for the real life campaign they’re thrown into here. Then I remember they aren’t real.

Nice work.