Posted by: Matt Y | 05/30/2015

Review: A Single Samurai

The last of the Short Story nominees is A Single Samurai by Steven Diamond. I give it up for Baen Publishing, they included the story along with the entire Big Book of Monsters anthology. That’s extremely generous of them.

A Single Samurai is about just that. A lone samurai. He just so happens to be climbing a giant monster.

Early Immersion – Starts off with paragraph about deciding who you are, then there’s a break and then it goes into the sentence ‘It’s no easy task to watch your land destroyed.’ Personally I thought that the initial start felt like a false one that wasn’t needed and that it should’ve started from the sentence I quoted. I just don’t think it added anything to the story and the whole ‘Who am I? Samurai.’ felt corny.

Immersion is maintained – Starts in present tense, moves to past, never returns to present tense though the end really requires it to do so. A personal thing that took me out of the story was the constant references to what it is to be a samurai and most of it felt like cartoon cliches of samurai. For one thing it doesn’t reference Bushido at all which is the set of principles that defines samurai. Samurai in the story appear to be defined as roaming warriors who fight demons with swords forged out with a piece of their souls and a sixth sense. More like Jedi than samurai, or magical ronin. Of course this is a world where giant land monsters can start walking the earth but a term like samurai has a well defined historical context that isn’t represented well. If samurai died when their swords broke that social class would’ve gone extinct quickly. Nitpicky in a fantasy story but it kept telling me what a samurai was which didn’t match with what I know.

There is a plot – The self sacrificing theme of the story at least is one you often seen in samurai fiction. It was a David and Goliath story, or a Shadow of the Colossus tale if you’re familiar with that game, of a man trying to take down a giant no matter what it took.

There are characters – There’s the main character who tells us a lot of what a samurai is, but not a lot of who they are. There are small bits of characterization however most of the character is defined by job title alone. If you want more of a character than ‘magic samurai’, this story isn’t giving it to you. There’s no development of the character over the course of the story aside from explaining more ways being a samurai is bad ass.

There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t suck – There’s a part with his father that factors into the end that worked well as non-sucky foreshadowing.

There are no gaping plot holes – The past/present tense issue which would’ve made the start of the tale narrated by a ghost. If you start in the moment and then go back to explain how you got there and die while still in the past tense, it makes the present tense part make less sense.

Pacing is appropriate – The pace is alright though the beginning for some reason started twice.

The piece has an emotional payoff
– At the end the character makes the ultimate sacrifice but since all I know of him is that he is a samurai who is trying to kill a monster it’s hard to generate a lot of emotion for this.

Despite my complaints I thought this story was fun. Sure the character is a caricature of a samurai, but I like western stories where most cowboys are just a mash up of cliches as well. There was a giant monster, I like giant monsters. It had some issues and maybe if it explored more of the idea of self sacrifice or the kind of betrayal one must feel when the land itself stands up and starts stomping people instead of magic samurai stabs a monster it could’ve meant more. As it is I liked it not enough to think it was among the best of the year.

Paulk Metric of Judgement: 50/50 so we’ll go with marginal worthiness.

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