Short story: “Rules for Ordinary Heroes”

by look i have opinions

“Rules for Ordinary Heroes,” by Sandra McDonald

Appeared in Nightmare Magazine, issue 32, May 2015

3305 words

On one hand, I was disappointed to find that our protagonist is not an ordinary hero. He is passive, with no real character arc and no redeeming nobility, a “hero” only by the loosest conventions of screenwriting. All this is by design, but it makes him harder to care about. On the other hand, would the existential bleakness and sweetness of the end be as effective with a more heroic protagonist, someone who made a Herculean effort to clean up the filthy toilet stall and talk to someone about sanitation? I tend to think a story like that would be more effective, but maybe not. In any case, it would be a different story.

We never learn whether Angela Quintana survives and whether her son understands what she did for his sake. I’m not sure if McDonald is satirizing Hollywood here or if she genuinely wants to keep the focus on her bland, probably white protagonist.

I’m surprised to see this story in Nightmare, and to see it labeled as horror. To my mind this is dark science fiction (or more precisely, literary fiction with a dark theme and a science fiction plot element).

“The only time machine is time itself” is a good line.