While I’m waiting for Conan the Indomitable to arrive, let’s take a look at another of the short story collection in Leaves of the World Tree. This one starts off reasonably interesting:
3 is the loneliest number. At 12, the people with work the next day are done hanging and head home. At 1 the reckless are partying strong. At 2, you can still find someone to talk to. Friends exist at 2. If you aren’t still hanging out at 3, no one wants to start. It’s too close to 4. People need to sleep. But I guess I’m not exactly “people.”
And then immediately faceplants:
If there is no rest for the wicked, I guess you can call me Doctor Doom. I’m being facetious, of course. I have no castle in Latveria. No robot army at my command. No, I’m quite alone most of the time. Then again, you don’t really understand what “most of the time” means for me. Not yet. Perhaps I should explain.
This whole paragraph is basically white noise in which our narrator gives us a metaphor and then explains why the metaphor does not apply. But if you haven’t figured it out, our narrator is immune to sleep. This story is going to try and convince me that this is one of those blessings that is actually a curse, and the obvious way to do that would be to have the narrator in a constant state of lethargy. If you never really need to sleep but are constantly in that state where you’re too tired to really focus, that would be terrible. It’s kind of like never needing to eat but always being hungry. Sure, you save a lot on groceries, but it’s not really worth it, is it?
But no, the narrator never gets tired at all, and takes advantage of this to work out a lot:
For one, I’m ripped as fuck. You would be too if you were never tired, and had twice as much time as you do now.
“Twice as much.” People only sleep one third of the time, unless they’ve got some kind of disorder.
More importantly, the narrative is trying to convince me that the downside to not having to sleep is being lonely all the time. I guess maybe this guy is an extreme extrovert, but even so, there’s still like twenty hours of the day where someone’s awake, and that’s assuming this clearly modern story takes place sometime before the internet era, when you can get into chat rooms or (in the past 5-ish years) voice chat with anyone at any time.
And just a few paragraphs later, the story verifies that it takes place in 2015-ish (the year of the book’s release – which kinda surprised me when I looked it up, since the author is still flogging it into 2019):
As I took the long elevator ride to her floor I thought about our history. Relationships don’t come as easily to me as the skills you can learn from how-to YouTube videos. No one can teach me to fall asleep with a girl in my arms. There’s no tutorial to show me how to slow my heartbeat to a calm lullaby.
3 AM on the east coast is 8 PM in Australia. Find a chat room!
In the same respect, no matter how much time someone devotes to me, it’ll never really be enough. Even if a girl dedicated half of her waking hours to me, it would only ever be a quarter of mine.
Jesus fuck, just how needy are you? It takes 32 hours of time for someone who sleeps a normal 8 hours a day to get 24 waking hours, so 32 hours of normal people time is equivalent to 24 hours of our narrator’s time. Between work, sleep, commuting, and just having other hobbies, it’s perfectly typical for people to only see their SO for like 4-6 hours in that time frame. Especially when they’re not moved in together, it’s completely normal for people to spend an entire day without talking to their SO face-to-face, subsisting off of a phone call and a couple of texts. It’s not ideal, but you can jolly well sustain a relationship seeing someone every other day, and this guy doesn’t have any 24-hour gaps, just 8 hour ones.
In any case, our hero is heading over to an ex-girlfriend’s apartment to comfort her after some ambiguous crime perpetrated against her. The dialogue is so atrocious that I cringe at the notion of even copy/pasting it. I’m serious, my original plan was just to gloss over it because the dialogue is cringe-inducing, and I don’t like cringe and I don’t like inflicting it on my audience. Of course, I need to back up my criticisms, so we’re copy/pasting it anyway:
When it was over, I told her what I thought would help. The truth. “You could not have stopped it from happening.”
Unfazed, she kept staring at a full mug of tea gone cold. “Of course I could have. A gun has a shit ton of stopping power. I could have blown the fucker away with the first weapon since the whip to go supersonic. I could have broken the sound barrier using a hollow-point round with a cruciform tip. Do you know what that would do? The round would mushroom and tumble through his innards, tearing them apart. The exit wound would be so big that everyone who saw that unwashed stain on a brick wall in an alley… They would all be thinking the same thing. ‘Some shit-head died here.’”
I placed a hand on her arm and lowered the mug to the table. “You could not have stopped it. Dirty Harry could have stopped it. Robo-Cop, the Terminator, the Punisher, sure. But you? You were not the person to carry around a pistol, with enough kick to bruise a palm, loaded with bullets against the Geneva Convention, and you won’t be.”
It goes on like this for a couple more paragraphs. It does not get better. Apparently this particular assault victim (and it still does not specify what kind of assault) is of the rare breed who feel better when told that they are completely helpless before future attacks. I mean, there’s something to be said for just having someone who cares enough to talk to you about it at all, and so long as you’re sympathetic and supportive, it’s actually pretty hard to listen to their problems in such a way that makes them feel worse. But hanging a story on someone providing comfort that’s not quite inept enough to actually worsen the problem does not exactly make for gripping literature.
And that’s it. The story just ends after a few paragraphs of this, and the narrator whining a bit more about how much it sucks to have eight extra hours of free time every day, because he can’t figure out how timezones work and make friends in Australia or the UK. It even ends with him Facebook messaging someone who’s up at 5 AM! If you’re already at the point where you’re using text communication because you require absolutely incessant social interaction to stave off crippling despair, then you have absolutely nothing to lose by going international.
This story is supposed to be a magical realism thing where the protagonist is inexplicably unable to and has no need for sleep, but then the one character interaction we get has nothing to do with that at all. Sure, he shows up to talk to his ex because he’s always awake, but the story would’ve been exactly the same if he’d just happened to have been awake because someone set off a car alarm just outside his apartment. It’s a story that lasts just long enough to abandon its premise.