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Bewildering Stories

The Critics’ Corner

The Dead Narrators’ Unsociety

by Don Webb

The title is taken — with apologies — from the film starring Robin Williams, The Dead Poets Society. Our point is that dead narrators — not dead poets — are inherently unsocial.

A review reader’s critique of a recent submission said, in part: “Doesn't BwS have a ‘no dead narrators’ policy?”

Yes, we do. The Review Board established long ago and by consensus two main rules about plots. We can’t consider:

What about stories that are set in an imaginary afterlife? Don’t they qualify as “dream” stories or even “dead narrator” stories? Not exactly, and the premise can’t be ruled out arbitrarily.

Ancient myths featuring gods and goddesses are typically set in a kind of “dreamscape” outside of time and space, but they always connect in some way to their audiences’ reality. Likewise, many — perhaps even most — science fiction stories are set in a possible future, or in an alternate past, present or future, or on some other planet; but they, too, represent a reality readers can recognize. If readers can’t recognize it, the language itself is unintelligible.

Neither myths nor fantasy nor science fiction pretend to literal realism, but they are logically coherent. The same can’t be said of stories that claim to be pure dream or that leave no one alive to tell the story.

Copyright © 2012 by Don Webb
for Bewildering Stories

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