Strange Horizons, September 21, 2015
“Bodies Are the Strongest Conductors” by James Robert Herndon
Reviewed by Joshua Berlow
“Bodies Are the Strongest Conductors” by James Robert Herndon is an excellent story. I like the fact that there’s not a lot of complicated backstory to be explained. Many science-fiction and fantasy stories have a detailed built world baked in, one that is difficult to convey in short story length. Not so this story. “Bodies Are the Strongest Conductors” isn’t overtly genre, though can be seen as slightly on the horror side.
It’s about two boys, not yet in high school. The main character is Nicky, who has been taken out of school because of an allergy to everything metallic. Allergies are an issue with kids these days, so it’s interesting to see this incorporated into a story. This main character is visited at home by another kid named “Lumpy.” The author effectively manages to imbue Lumpy with a quality of kid menace that most boys are familiar with. Kids like Lumpy are inherently menacing because they are capable of anything and are completely unpredictable. As soon as Lumpy shows up with an embalmed raccoon in a soggy cardboard box (this is the second story in a row from Strange Horizons featuring taxidermy) the tension mounts.
There are some good lines in this story, like this one: “I wanted to barf like a change machine at an arcade after someone shoved a million dollar bill inside me.” This captures the language and thinking we would expect from a young boy. Also there’s an implication that Lumpy and his father don’t have a healthy relationship. That this is implied and not stated outright makes it creepily effective, and that Lumpy has his own problems gives depth to his friendship with Nicky.
This story would be a sketch if Nicky didn’t progress or change in some way, but he does. He’s happy that Lumpy has stopped by. His Mom is at work and he is lonely staying at home all day from school because of his allergy to anything metal. He’s willing to go along with anything the menacing Lumpy suggests in order to keep Lumpy as a friend, but eventually draws the line at swallowing pennies. He recognizes that this could be fatal. The reader cheers Nicky’s defiant act of individuality in spite of peer pressure, but it is also what is revealed about Lumpy that makes the story work so effectively.
Joshua Berlow’s Twitter address is @GlobalPsychogeo.