Light of Other Days (YGtCTO Words #20)

Short Story by Bob Shaw

This is easily one of the greatest short stories written in English. In its brevity, the tale accomplishes what so many others take a few hundred pages to barely sketch. More than that, the science fiction involved is absolutely integral to the logic of the plot and reinforces the emotional thrust. It is a concrete lesson in how to construct a brilliant short story as well as a pleasure for any reader blessed with fifteen minutes to relish the tale.

As the meta-story goes, Shaw wrote the story in four hours. How we love the idea of the artist as channeler for that mystic realm where all art is actually kept. All any would-be artist needs to do is dip into the creative regions with their specially designed fishing pole (granted to every recipient of an M.F.A. from a reputable school) and reel back in something special. Beginners are welcome to “noodle.”

In reality, Shaw had been mulling the story for a long time. Ideas do erupt fully-formed in the mind, but an idea is not a finished work. Note that word- work. We all have ideas all day long. Few of us are artists all day long. Our desires, plans, interests diverge from the willingness to put in the work to transform that artistic notion into a finished creation that can be shared outside of our heads.

I suspect that explains the popular idea of the artist that hates doing the work. You’re allowed to complain about your boss or your tasks or your workplace, but somehow we expect artists to be above those petty concerns. But you are going to show up tomorrow and do your best. So is the artist. My morning routine before sitting down and writing has not changed that much from the office. Breakfast and email go together like toast and marmalade.

Make no mistake, the idea of slow glass is pure brilliance, but how easy it would have been merely to throw it out there: so, everybody has this stuff and we use it on our walls and isn’t that cool? The mind of the artist recognized the concept for the powerful feelings that could be engendered by such seemingly simple technology. The idea was too good to force into the background.

Once dragged forward into a central place in the story, Shaw does the unthinkable… he makes the story about people other than the guy with the technology. He shoves the technology just over there, stage right while he refocuses the action elsewhere. That is an artist in command of all his powers. So, we know that this story was not merely tossed onto the page in four hours. Thought and experience and training made this possible.

Then, he immediately shoved the pages into an envelope, scribbled Analog on the outside and handed it to the mailman who happened to be walking onto his porch at that very moment.

Of course not… he edited the work. He worried over it. Then John Campbell at Analog did the same. Sure, Campbell recognized brilliance- he had been in the editing game a long time by then. And he appreciated the work of it hidden by all that beautiful art.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 241 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

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