The Critics’ Corner
“Boys from the Neighborhood”
The Bewildering Stories Review Board discusses Dan Reed’s “Boys from the Neighborhood” which begins in issue 448.
The plot seems very familiar, something out of the old B western films. The black-hat guys run a corrupt town and exploit the honest miners and claimholders. A tough but honest gunslinger comes to town, cleans up Dodge City, and rides off into the sunset, like Shane. The role has been played by such actors as Clint Eastwood and Toshiro Mifune.
In “Boys from the Neighborhood” there is no showdown. The ending is told rather than shown. It seems inconclusive, easy, and disappointing.
True, the old staples can be fun. But the “Dodge City” plot strikes me as one-dimensional. Rather “Boys from the Neighborhood” intrigues me mostly because it doesn’t follow the ready-made pattern. Tom doesn’t “clean up Dodge”; he leaves the bad guys to loll in their moral squalor and rebuilds a town of his own.
“Boys” could have been structured as a conventional frame story, but it avoids a foregone conclusion; rather it depicts primarily Tom Farrell’s motivation. The resulting social commentary provides a multi-dimensional construct growing out of the straight-line narrative.
The escape from a dark age is far from unknown in science fiction — witness Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, for one — and the establishment of socially dissident or utopian colonies is an interesting but sometimes overlooked part of American history.
The irony is, of course, is that Tom Farrell’s ideal is utopian only from the viewpoint of readers living in a culture of anarchistic capitalism, where the economy and, ultimately, society are ruled by organized crime. Otherwise it would seem quite natural.
I do agree, though, that the complex ending may be a missed opportunity. I would have made the conclusion an epilogue in dramatic rather than narrative mode. It could have brought all the story lines together succinctly at a final point.
I give Dan Reed credit for writing a cautionary tale of contemporary political philosophy dressed in the trappings of the conventional space “oater.”
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