Monday, July 16, 2012

Edwards, Ferryman (2011)

Nigel Edwards, Ferryman. Greyhart Press, 2011. 5,000 words. ISBN 978-1-4580-9931-0.

Reviewed by Jo Rhett

Ferryman is a short story by British writer Nigel Edwards, published by small press e-book and novella publisher Greyhart Press, who have put out other short works by Edwards. The press market this as a "near-future science fiction short story"; the cover, showing a trilby-clad silhouette, could suggest a crime or horror setting. Ferryman is a glimpse into the life of a professional that doesn't exist in recognizable form today. It's a view into an unusual task for a very politicized and public role. I won't go into the details since a large amount of the story delivery is tied up with bringing the reader slowly face to face with the reality of the job, and honestly this is one of the things that this original and controversial story does best, weakened only by lack of emotional engagement for the reader.

From the author's notes, the story was written as a what-if analysis of how society might be changed if certain laws were to be made. Edwards does a good job of taking that concept and turning it into a story involving not just one, but at least three well-rounded characters. Given the short length of 29 pages and the controversial subject matter, this is well done and worth reading.

My only concern with the story rose from how the story presented itself to me, the reader. The story is told in third-person limited point of view of the job performer, but it remains very aloof from even this person's thoughts and feelings. We catch a few of the performer's responses, but there is little attempt to make an emotional connection with the character at all.

I am not familiar with Edwards's other work, so I can only speculate on the choice of delivery. I suspect that the author was trying perhaps a bit too hard to avoid putting his own thoughts on a controversial topic into the delivery. However, to my taste, I feel that the story didn't resonate with me for exactly that reason. Objective delivery is necessary for objective material, but for entertainment most people want to engage with subjective matter that allows us to share the protagonist's experience.

I do actually question if the author was intending to convey that the protagonist was medically or psychologically incapable of the emotional response this scene would induce in most people. That would absolutely be an interesting twist, but I could find no evidence of this idea in the story.

In summary, Ferryman is a very ideologically interesting story told from an aloof, detached point of view. The concept is interesting, the characters feel like they are well developed, but we are not allowed to touch them, to feel for them, to share with them. I found this story quite interesting and worth reading, but I would jump at the chance to read the same story told from an intensely subjective viewpoint.

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