Short story: “The Nightmare Lights of Mars”

by look i have opinions

“The Nightmare Lights of Mars,” by Brian Trent

Featured in episode 415 of Escape Pod, September 27th, 2013

4,198 words

There are a lot of things to like about this story, but it just doesn’t hold together. (Forgive the bullet points; my thoughts don’t hold together well either.)

  • The ending is awesome.
  • It also comes out of nowhere. Why are the bugs so smart?
  • The opening is very big and dramatic, the main character almost dies, and then it has almost nothing to do with the rest of the story. I think it’s supposed to show how lonely Clarissa is, how badly she needs her paintings, but it felt overdone to me.
  • Clarissa’s wife is a selfish, abusive jerk with no redeeming qualities. I don’t see how their relationship adds anything to the story. It feels like a device to make Clarissa more sympathetic.
  • The paintings are a nice bit of characterization.
  • But they have no significant connection to the plot and they don’t really fit thematically either.
  • The first exchange between Clarissa and Vijay goes on longer than it needs to. At this point, we don’t yet know she has hard evidence, which makes for a bit of false suspense. Why would she withhold that information? Why would she let Vijay disbelieve her to the point that she gets angry and frustrated? This could be character development, but it feels like conflict by numbers.
  • Also, I didn’t catch on at that point that Vijay was in denial. So his reaction to seeing the bugs struck me as way over the top.
  • It doesn’t help that I never got a visceral feel for how terrible the giant bug discovery was. I felt kind of detached about the whole thing.
  • I had the same reaction to Clarissa’s mental state at the very end. Afterwards, I realized it was the effect of the gold light, but until I got that context, I actually found the keening and sobbing and self-injury sort of funny. (I know, I’m sick.)
  • It’s nice to see a portrayal of a same-gender couple (and an Indian guy) without it being a big deal.
  • The description of the ants is pretty cool.

Anyway, I think this story would be better if it kept the pure-horror feel of the ending all the way through, and if it were unified by some kind of theme. Like Clarissa’s sense that she keeps getting lured into bad situations, or something.