Richard Parry’s debut short story Sleepless is subtitled, “Staying awake is staying alive.” For the crew of the Texas, sleep isn’t a means to sanity, as it is for the rest of humanity; it’s a means by which the crew succumbs to the madness caused by a rumbling mechanical defect few can hear.
Sleepless opens with Jennifer Prescott, commander of the starship Texas, in a bit of a pickle. Members of the crew are dying left and right, willingly (and happily) committing the sort of kamikaze only someone deep into crazy could conceive of. Prescott’s salvation is the stims she pops far too often for safety, and her damnation is the remaining crew, who are determined to wreck themselves and the Texas with them.
Parry has a gift for painting deep characterizations in a minimum of vividly detailed strokes. Prescott jumps right off the page and immediately snags the reader’s attention, and holds it throughout the story. Her perception, in fact, is what makes the story so fascinating, even as the horror holding sway on the Texas inspires revulsion.
Other characters are rendered just as deftly. Of one of the unfortunate suicides, Parry writes (from Prescott’s perspective):
She’d known Simpson, not well, but well enough to nod at him in the tight corridors of the Texas. A good man, had a family back on Titan. She’d played chess with him last week. He was a lousy chess player.
This succinct grasp of character permeates Sleepless, and is reason enough to consider delving more deeply into Parry’s longer story worlds.
Sleepless is part action, part character study, part psychological wonder. Fans of Science Fiction shorts should enjoy Parry’s initial foray into the literary form and get a kick out of the punchy ending.
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