Short Story Review: Little Bernie's Map by Troy Aaron Ratliff

TITLE: Little Bernie’s Map
AUTHOR: Troy Aaron Ratliff
FORMAT: Kindle
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 3.5/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all stories I’ve ever read].
FOR: Sci-fi lovers. People who like creepy paranormal stories with a twist.

The world is a funny place with funny people and some things just happen for no reason at all. Still, every family deserves a vacation, a break, even when times are tough and backs are against the wall. Daniel, a recently out-of-work family man, is returning home with his wife and child from a lovely prescheduled vacation before they must face the harsh reality back home. What they would never have expected was the surreal nightmare they would experience on their journey back.

Overall, I loved the concept. The execution is where I experienced a few bumps. I tend to judge short stories more harshly than novels, because they’re so compact that every word really counts. To explain myself clearly, I’ll break it down by halves.

First half: Ratliff has a wickedly sharp sense of his character. Daniel’s nervous, hopeful demeanor ekes out of every page. I felt instantly connected to him, so much that I forgot the whole deal with the map for a time. Some of the writing drags a little in too much description or too much metaphor; however, generally there’s little to distract you from Daniel’s worried internal monologue.

Second half: Which is the problem. I had no idea what this story would be like going into it. I don’t mind a surprise ending, but the best surprises are carefully set-up. A clever reader can feel the tension building, even if they don’t know why they feel anxious. The map was introduced a little too late into the tale. What’s more, we have a case of telling, rather than showing. Sometimes that style can work. Here, just when the horror was becoming clear, Ratliff yanked us out of Daniel’s head and simply described the action as though in a newspaper, as though it had already happened. I wanted to see what was going on through the eyes of the narrator with whom I’d grown comfortable. Feel the horror as Daniel felt it. I think I’d have enjoyed the last part much more if Ratliff had showed us what was happening as it was happening.

However, the concept itself was brilliant. In another draft, I think it could make the pages of Asimov’s. I can’t give anything away, else I spoil it for you. Suffice to say, I had to flip back a page or two to make sure that what I had surmised was correct, because it was just so darn clever. Ratliff has a wondrous imagination. I look forward to reading more of his work and to watching him grow as a storyteller.

I received this short story free from the author in exchange for an honest review. My opinions stated here in no way relate to the cost of the story or anything but my own appraisal of the work.

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