Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Long Looks at Short Fiction: "D.O.C.S." by Neal Barrett, Jr.

"D.O.C.S." by Neal Barrett, Jr.
Asimov's Science Fiction
September 2011

I know, I know, this is the previous issue, not the current one.  It's still available at Fictionwise.  I'm behind on my reading, so sue me.  Most of you have a stack of things to be read just like I do.  Are you caught up?  I didn't think so.

Before you read further, be aware this post contains spoilers.

The D.O.C.S. of the title is an acronym for Department of Curative Science.  It's not a nice outfit.  They don't practice the type of medicine you want if you're sick.  For that you go to a doktr.  The doktrs are required to keep detailed notes on people's medical conditions, which are reported to DOCS.  If they can't be helped, then all medical care is cut off.  "Denied furtherance of medical intervention" is what it's called. 

In other words, the government run medical care determines who lives or dies. 

The story concerns a boy whose mother is on the list.  It's not a happy story.  Rather it's a warning of where we could be heading.  "D.O.C.S." is short, so I'll not spoil any more of it for you.

End of spoilers.

I will, however, make the following general comments on the story.  It's told from the viewpoint of Bobby, who seems to be a preteen boy when the story opens.  He's aged considerably by the closing line.  While I often have reservations about stories told from a child's viewpoint (they tend to be somewhat passive), this is a perfect viewpoint of this tale.  Barrett uses it to build suspense as Bobby has to try to make sense of events he doesn't completely understand but knows are bad, very bad. 

Barrett's prose, as usual, is compelling, pulling the reader into the events.  This one has all the punch of the first time you slammed back a shot of good single malt.

Neal Barrett, Jr. is a unique voice in the world of fantastic literature.  If you haven't read him, you need to rectify that omission ASAP.  This is a perfect place to start.

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