Friday, June 01, 2012

"The Last Train"

Yesterday we had a shaggy dog story, today we have a story that ends with a turn of phrase. Having one phrase with two different meanings is confusing as hell to people who are trying to learn the English language. We really don't think about it. We have spoken it, heard it, and we understand the context.

Fredric Brown, who with just a few words could deliver a punch like a heavyweight boxer, wrote this short-short, "The Last Train," for the January, 1950 issue of Weird Tales. Up to the last paragraph it isn't weird in any sense, but in the last couple of lines takes on a totally different meaning. Just as the shaggy dog story sets us up for expectations that are unrealized, this story sets us up for an ending that is totally unexpected.

Brown was one of the top genre writers of his day. He wrote pulp stories, mystery, fantasy, weird and horror. He wrote paperback originals. He wrote the classic What Mad Universe, where an editor ends up in an alternate universe based on a science fiction fan's imagination. He wrote the story, "Arena," which has been filmed several times, including as a Star Trek episode. I read once that Brown, when plotting his novels, would take off on long bus rides and work out his plots. Whatever a writer needs to make something work is good. Obviously, those trips through America on a Greyhound bus helped his creativity.

Brown was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1907. He died at age 65 in 1972.