The Night Cyclist – Stephen Graham Jones.
30 pages| Publisher: Tor| Genre: Horror
The digest: The Night Cyclist demonstrates how a skilled author can create an intense and enthralling narrative in only 30 pages. Without a doubt the most engaging short I have read in a long time, with enough blank space in the detailing for us to complete the story with our own experiences and ideas.
To keep the spoilers to an absolute minimum I will only say that we follow a chef who takes his career and his passion (cycling) incredibly seriously, going to considerable effort to ensure that his gear is in as good a condition as it can be. In terms of the description, do we know how many knives he keeps in his leather case? No. The size of his bikes alloys? No. What his favourite colour is? No. They are not vital to the plot and thus are left for the reader to decide on. The author employs this method of description throughout his 30 pages, but not once did I feel short-changed. By allowing me to add extra information to the text in my imagination, Graham Jones encouraged me to interact with the story on a more personal level. Indeed, for the brief time, it took to read the story, I was so engaged that my concentration didn’t lapse once.
In terms of characters, we again *know* very little for the supporting cast. Instead, the author presents us with a few tidbits with which to draw our own conclusions. A curious conversation here, a small detail there, and I’m sure you will have already inserted your own prejudices and experiences into the narrative. The understanding of the characters will vary wildly for each reader. For those who have read the book (or will do so in the future), it might be worth thinking about what happened to the other new porter. How much information you want to supply to fill out the storyworld is up to you, but even taking a minute or two halfway through to think about everything will make your experience much more enjoyable. The story is a slice of life which knowingly relies on the reader’s inbuilt prejudices and ideas to drive the character development.
We are, however, given a fair bit of information about the main character: his love for cycling, the thrill he gets from speeding along, and a few personality traits are expertly conveyed by the author. Again, I will say no more as to not ruin the plot.
The narrative is both well paced and well structured – the intensity of the climax evenly matched with enough prior knowledge to form our own opinions and guesses as to what is about to happen. Are we surprised by the closing paragraphs or should we have seen them coming? Not that you won’t be surprised by the closing pages – I certainly was even though I felt confident about the actions I was foreshadowing in my head.
I cannot recommend this short story highly enough for those interested in a dark episodic piece of fiction. It will take no more than thirty minutes to read in completion, and at no point will you be bored or sidetracked. I will definitely be looking into other works by this author.