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.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"Song of the Black Dog" by Kit Reed: An Appreciation by Gregory Frost

This is such an exemplary Kit Reed story, written in a kind of helix around the core idea, which shares certain characteristics with Philip K. Dick stories--in particular that man who doesn't know why he knows what he knows, doesn't know how to find out, and so becomes a displaced film-noir character who never manages to get ahead of the plot he's caught up in, and who is, in effect, always wrong.

"If the wonder dog is just a dog, then the police department are money-grubbing charlatans and the exposé will move him from unemployed to famous."

I had a character in a story a few years ago who approached things similarly—-with delusions of how he could expose something and make a big name for himself. He was likewise out of his depth. Perhaps that's part of the appeal for me.

Here, as she often does, Kit approaches the story obliquely, edge-on, in a kind of literary anamorphosis, in which you have to find the perspective, view it from the right vantage, and assemble the mosaic yourself, the final picture is greater, always greater, than the sum of the parts. It's all there but significant pieces are left out, selectively, and in such a way that the story will go on threading its pathway through your brain long after you reach the end. It's why I still seek out Kit Reed stories decades after I encountered my first one. How lovely is that?

It's also science fiction in a wrapper of mythological inference: a future not far from now but with hints, images and notions of Hades, of Cerberus, of Death personified. The dog that can identify who will live and who will die is Death; by pointing out the living, he defines the dead. Dog and man meet underground, in a labyrinth beneath a theater. The story, so invested, invites me, as engaged reader, to bring something to it--in this case, from a reading awhile back, a recollection of Ephyra in Greece, a place considered in antiquity to be one of the gateways to the realm of the dead, where archaeologists have uncovered a substantial subterranean labyrinth that conforms with Homer's description, in the Odyssey, of the Halls of Hades.

Siefert, the man, and the supernatural dog meet in the underworld, and become thus two figures out of myth—the one charged with knowing the dead, the other unaware that this power, like a torch, will pass to him, because he's too busy dreaming of fame and fortune to see what's really there. It's a wonderful encounter. The world assumes the dog is some genetic fluke, a mutation; it can’t imagine the truth of the animal that the author presents anymore than Siefert can.

"You're not the agent I would have chosen," the dog tells the man, understanding his power, his purpose, his fate; the human, on the cusp of inheriting all, still doesn't get it right up till the last paragraph. The epiphany in the story belongs to the dog. The man, in the end, has fallen into his fate but seems none the wiser for it.

"Siefert understands. Grimacing with unspeakable pain, he turns. Goes inside. Sits down in front of a network vice president."

In this one final paragraph, Kit delivers the killer blow. What the dog has known as its existence the man recognizes as almost unbearable. The death of his predecessor is added to his knowledge along with the power itself. Now, if we can just get him to sit in front of Rupert Murdoch . . . .

Link to story.

Gregory Frost is the author of the short story collection Attack of the Jazz Giants & Other Stories from Golden Gryphon Press.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well now, Greg, that's just great! It makes my story sound even better than it is! Now, if SciFiction could only go on forever, I'd be sitting here working hard on the next instead of plunging into a new novel. Thanks for the appreciation, I'm tremendously psyched.

6:07 AM  

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