Review: Bow Shock by Gregory Benford

Writers have a lot of ways of reminding themselves to remove excess words. Some of my favorite are kill your darlings, brevity is the soul of whit, start as close to the stories end as possible and try to leave out the parts that people skip. The reason there are so many ways to say this is that it’s one of the most difficult things there is to do, but often it is also the best thing we can do.

In the case of Bow Shock by Gregory Benford the story was good, and it might have been great if someone had taken a pair of hedge clippers to it. This is one of the most authentic feeling science fiction stories I have ever read. If I had to bet I would say that Gregory has worked in astronomy and it shows. The problem is that large parts of the story seem to have little if anything to do with the main point of the story. There are two plots going on. The first has the main character studying what he believes to be a fast moving neutron star while trying to prove what it is to improve his chances of tenure. The second part is the same astronomer interacting with his girlfriend and eventually dealing with the possibility that she might be pregnant.

I would have no problem with the second part of this story if it tied more into the first. If it even impacted his ability to do his research in a more direct way, but it really didn’t seem to even do that. In a novel this might have been fine but in a short story it made it feel far too long. I read short stories in part because I can sit down and read them in a single sitting but at 45 pages that wasn’t really possible with this story, though it could have been. It also would have allowed it to get to the surprise at the ending a bit faster.

And that leads to the other small, but largely inevitable problem with this story. It is virtually impossible to not expect there to be a revelation at the end of this story since no one really expects to read a story about a scientist who proves that a fast moving neutron star is a fast moving neutron star and then gets tenure.  But this is minor both because it is true of any science fiction story of this type and because the science and how he gets to that point really is interesting. It makes you feel like you’re watching something that might actually happen and that feeling is even more impressed upon you by the pictures that appear throughout the story of the astronomical events that he is looking at.

I really did enjoy Bow Shock by Gregory Benford and while there are flaws in it that I believe that tightening the story would improve it considerably I am open to the idea that it was important to the character and added something to the story by making you care more about the character and if this were a novel then those personal aspects would certainly add more.


You can read this story here.