“The Journeyman: In the Stone House”
Michael F. Flynn
Category: Best Novelette
Here we have the story of a couple of tribesmen, Teodorq and Sammi (the author should probably have said that first name out loud before using it), who come from a fairly low-tech society and come across a more advanced (medieval level) people; there are hints of a far more high-tech civilization in the more distant past. This makes it sound superficially similar to “Flow”, but there are some major differences that made this one much more enjoyable.
For one thing, there’s actual characterization here: cocky Teodorq and deadpan Sammi make a great pairing, and the banter between the two made me laugh out loud more than once. They speak in an invented dialect that feels a lot more natural than the one in “Flow”, and although Sammi doesn’t have a strong command of the language (being from a different tribe) and speaks in fragments, his intelligence still comes through.
The story is also well-structured: the protagonists are captured early on, so not only is there action at the beginning to get the reader’s attention, but there’s subsequent tension through the rest of the story as our heroes try to talk their way out of their predicament. By the time they’ve managed that, there’s another tribesman with a personal vendetta against Teodorq to worry about.
This all culminates in a duel between the two, which was actually the weakest part of the novelette. The author clearly knows a thing or two about longsword fighting, and the scene turns into a bit of a lecture on the subject as a dizzying array of stances and maneuvers are named and described. I appreciated the realism but it was a little dull in comparison to the witty dialogue in the preceding sections.
But apart from the overly technical sword fight, this was the first of the short fiction entries that was actually a pleasure to read. This was a Puppy nominee, and while it’s clear at this point that actual quality was not a factor in their selections, that doesn’t mean good stories can’t get in (even if just by chance). That’s the whole reason to vote on the merits rather than automatically No-Awarding all the slate entries, so I’m glad to finally find a good story—it means all this reading hasn’t totally been in vain.