Surveillance by Alexander & Lynette Sofras

This short story discusses a future in which people of genius-level intelligence become government property. Any unusually smart children are regularly assessed to determine if they meet the criteria. The protagonists, a couple that lost their first child to an untimely death, are trying to protect their brilliant second child from government intervention.

The premise is a stock one in science fiction, and nothing about its presentation in this story stands out. The story is too long, the dialogue is too formal and thus sounds unnatural, the authors outright tell us what the protagonists are thinking and feeling, and the twist at the end is a pointless cliché that does not fit with the rest of the story.

First, I should say that I have a strong bias against novellas. They occupy an unhappy space between true short stories and novels, and although some are great, most tend to end up being short stories that spend too much time meandering. In this case, although the story was labelled a short story, its multiple chapters led me to consider it more of a novella, and it suffers from the lack of focus that many novellas do.

The story has one point with a twist at the end, but because of the amount of time the authors take to deliver their message the entire thing struggles to hold the reader’s interest. There’s too much padding, and the entire work suffers for it. For a short story to work, every sentence has to be on point and, as stated, the novella tends to encourage authors to plug in excess words. It’s a trap that many writers fall into.

Second, the dialogue in this work is overly formal. On the one hand, all of the characters are highly educated individuals, but on the other the dialogue sounds like the authors speaking, not the characters. This drains the life from the character and renders them sterile instruments whose sole purpose is to deliver the authors’ message.

Third, the authors have a habit of telling the reader what the characters are thinking. Although doing so is appropriate under certain circumstances, it is usually better to show the reader what the characters are feeling through physical reactions and their interactions with other characters. Although there is a good amount of this in the story, the authors still give away too much by outright telling the reader how the two main protagonists feel about each situation.

Finally, the twist at the end of the novel does not fit with the rest of the story. It transforms what was a relatively uneventful traipse through a common theme in science fiction into a different but similarly uninteresting one in a throwaway paragraph at the end. I will not reveal what the twist was, but it was tacked on and added nothing to the story. Instead of knocking me on my hind end, it made me roll my eyes.

It is difficult to write a good short story, and the authors of this one failed to do so. They handicapped themselves by writing something closer to a novella and a short story and inherited all of the problems that come from doing so. I give it a 2/5.

If you want to take a gander, you can pick up a copy from Amazon.

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