This week for Short Fiction Friday I review the first published work of one of our own SF Signal Irregulars, Timothy C. Ward.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Geoffrey is a high school student with a peculiar diet, made necessary because of the suspicion that within his make-up he may harbor the gene that will turn him from a young man into a monster. On what may turn out to be the most important day of his life thus far, will Geoffrey find answers to the questions plaguing his existense? And if the answers are revealed, will he like what he discovers?
PROS: Strong characterization; interesting idea to merge faith and horror; good build up of tension; story ends on a satisfying note.
CONS: Cornhusker mythology could be more deeply explored; a couple of sentence structure issues;
BOTTOM LINE: Cornhusker: Demon Gene was selected for publication by A Flame in the Dark for a book featuring Christian horror with monsters. Timothy C. Ward has taken that premise to explore the struggles of a young man whose destiny may put him on a path to destruction. As his protagonist Geoffrey balances normal teenage angst against the pain of losing one’s faith, the reader gets to experience standard horror tropes used in a different way. There is a lot of potential revealed in Ward’s debut short story and it will be a pleasure to see where he goes from here.
I don’t want to reveal much more about the plot for fear of spoiling the story. The bulk of Ward’s story features his protagonist, Geoffrey, and a fellow high school student, Jessica. Ward does a convincing job of writing high school aged characters and that ultimately is the strength of his story. While the idea of genetic issues that can turn man into monster are not new, the reader can appreciate Ward’s attempt to craft his own Midwestern mythology. Because of the familiarity most readers will have with the overarching trope, it does not necessitate that the reader have a thorough understanding of the mythology Ward is crafting to be drawn into the emotional turmoil of the story. However, it was an interesting idea that would have made the story even stronger had it been explored more. What is the significance of Geoffrey’s diet? What kind of history led to his potential genetic problems? Ward drops hints that make for a thought-provoking story, I just wish there had been a little more exploration of the horror/mythology elements.
The use of faith, prayer and Biblical references is certainly not unheard of in horror. Stephen King is one of many authors who is not afraid to use religious ideas in his fiction. Like King, much of what can be found in the way of religion in horror is often a comment on the negative aspects of a belief in God. Without being preachy, Ward uses the religious elements of this story to explore the intersection of faith and doubt that everyone has at different times in their lives, regardless of who or what they believe in. I found those aspects compelling because throughout the story I was never sure exactly where Ward was going to go with those elements. He did a great job of leaving the reader guessing, then does him/her a favor by crafting an ending that may leave some questions unanswered but doesn’t disappoint.
I don’t read a lot of horror fiction, at least not until the darkness of late Autumn sets in, but I found it easy to get into this story. Most debut stories have debut story issues, and Cornhusker: Demon Gene is no exception. Early on there was a sentence that did not flow right for me and had me re-reading it several times to see if the problem was with me (admittedly it may be) and that happened a couple of more times. And as I pointed out, the mythology of this potential monster could have been explored more thoroughly. Debut issues aside, Cornhusker: Demon Gene does an admirable job of hitting the right emotional notes while wrapping up this particular episode in the characters’ lives.
Author Timothy C. Ward is a contributor here on SF Signal. In addition he maintains his own blog and creates the podcast AudioTim in which he interviews authors, editors, and publishers in the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror fields.
Cornhusker: Demon Gene can be purchased for download from Amazon for 99 cents!