Thursday, August 5, 2010

"A Princess of Earth" by Mike Resnick

Source: The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine (mp3)
Length: 1 hr, 5 min (the story itself is approx 35 min)
Readers: Rish Outfield and Big Anklevich

The story: After On a cold snowy night, an aged widower looks out his window and discovers a naked man wondering around in the blizzard. He brings the stranger in from the cold and when he warms up, the man identifies himself as John Carter, the hero from the Princess of Mars series. Of course, the widower believes the man to be crazy, but engages in conversation with "John Carter" anyway. Soon the topic moves to their respective loves for Deja Thoris and the old man's departed wife.

What makes this story work is the ambiguity of the situation. Like The Turn of the Screw or "The Yellow Wallpaper", the events can be interpreted as being literally true or the result of insanity. Resnick approaches this ambiguity from an unusual perspective: rather than the unreliable narrator being the potentially insane one, the narrator in this story is sane and cannot decide if the other character is sane. The resulting dilemma is a problem that is never fully resolved, making it a stronger story for its lack of resolution.

Rating: 7/10

The readers: The hosts of the Dunesteef podcast do an excellent job voicing this story, since as they point out, it lends itself well to being a play for two voices. The narrator's voice sounds like an old, tired man and is perfect. The voice of John Carter annoyed me a bit, though. Carter's voice sounds something like Ernie from Sesame Street; I suppose he lost his Virginia drawl while living on Mars. The podcast adds sound effects and some music at the beginning and end of the story. This music, in my opinion, distracts from the story. What should have been a poignant ending is rendered saccharine by the addition of a weepy tune.