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Bewildering Stories

Rachel Parsons writes about...

Challenge 196

The reference is to “One Beast That Cannot Be Tamed,” in issues 195 and 196.


I was attempting a mystery in the classical style where everyone sits around at the end and gets the details that, up to then, were only inferential in nature. The only detail I think I failed to “plant” was the evildoer’s relationship with the dead women. But I also wanted to hide the villain in plain sight. When I went back and checked, there was enough of the classic technique to allow the reader to figure out “Whodunnit.” Maybe not quite up to the bit of broken glass in Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, but then he was the Master.

I was following Asimov’s rules in the story, “One Beast That Cannot Be Tamed.” He was given a challenge to write an SF story that was also a good mystery. SF stories, it was argued, couldn’t be such, as the detective could always produce a visivox machine which would give him a clue the reader wasn’t in on. So Asimov went to prove them wrong by conveying the level of technology, the clues and so on consistently through the book, so the reader could follow along, just like in a classical mystery.

I did this by introducing the necromantic forensics at the beginning, and being consistent in the world building.

My writing is influenced by the John Campbell dicta, as well. You may remember, he wrote that an author to Analog had to write as if he were writing to a contemporary audience (contemporary to the story that is.) So if it were common knowledge about warp drives, then you don’t go into excruciating detail about warp drive.

That is why I introduce some things, like shifter-human communication, the way I do. So the reader knows that the Crucible of Pain can allow for communicating with the dead, but only a tamer can communicate with animals, or a shifter with its pack, even in human form.

In fact, I’d say I do a better job, if I do say so myself, than Crime Scene Investigation, where they sometimes have people who would know darn well what technology was being used explaining it to people like themselves, who would also know darn well what technology they were using.

All these considerations are food for thought and good writing.


Let’s hope the Challenge motivated readers to double check. That’s part of the fun!

The ending is certainly not a massive wrap-up as in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. And yet in classic style, the essential clues are planted early (e.g. in The Caves of Steel, Lije Bailey’s boss has lost his glasses).

John W. Campbell’s “contemporary audience” principle — write as though to an audience contemporary with the story — is a fallacy: it’s impossible to take literally; Campbell himself never did. But there is a smidgen of truth in the principle that’s worth a discussion, maybe in our next issue.

Anyway, up to the discovery of the perp, “Beast” could have gone another way, as with a kind of new psycho-magical disease emerging in New Fairy. It’s a prime distractor that allows you to resolve the mystery in the classic Whodunnit mode.

All Rhiannon needed was Colombo’s “Oh, and just one more question...” as he springs the trap. But giving Rhiannon a raincoat and a cigar would seem a little out of character!


Copyright © 2006 by Rachel Parsons
and Bewildering Stories

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