The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Monday, December 05, 2005

"A Flock of Birds" by James Van Pelt: An Appreciation by Alex Wilson

James Van Pelt cares about people. From his generosity as a teacher--both in the classroom as an instructor, and on online fora where he frequently dispenses writing advice--to his stories concerned less with grand universe-shattering ideas than with the even grander human experience, Van Pelt's is a person-centered science fiction.

His SCI FICTION story "A Flock of Birds" is a post-apocalyptic tale which on the surface seems focused on the materialistic survival of the characters. How does one find food and shelter after civilization collapses? How does one treat or even properly diagnose illness without trained medical professionals among the survivors? All in all, it's a good, well-told yarn.

But the more intricate story--the story Van Pelt is really telling here--is concerned with just-as-necessary, more personal survival needs. Companionship. Hope. Hobbies (Are they important tools to prevent mental stagnation or irresponsible escapist luxuries?). Community support systems after community itself has all but failed.

I first read Van Pelt's debut story collection Strangers and Beggars a few years back. I remember most how he he set loose in those stories outlandish metaphoric creatures or situations into familiar settings like the classroom or the office. But always I could believe the people in his stories were real, with real reactions and frustrations in response to crises, and with real determination to endure as both physical and emotional beings.

Which in the end makes for inspiring literature, and about everything you can ask for in science fiction story.

Link to story.


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