I came back to a short story I read in Strange Horizons. The opening paragraphs really stuck with me.
Interesting how the writer Rich Larson starts with 'back story' and piles on the adjectives - two things the learner writer is told to avoid.
The back story works for me because it raises questions : Why has Cedric come to work at this place? Why did he run away from his father and then his girl friend? What went wrong with his relationship? What happened before he arrived at the rig?
Rich uses vivid poetic language that paints an alien and dark scene.
Back story works when there are gaps in the facts provided - and those gaps intrigue the reader.
In Baltic waters, gnashed by dark waves, there stood an old oil platform on rusted legs. It was populated as rigs always are, by coarse men young and strong whose faces soon overgrew with bristle and bloat. Cedric was one of these.
He’d fled his father in New Zealand, then a pregnant girlfriend in Perth, arriving on the rig with insomniac eyes and an inchoate smile and a bank account in need of filling. In the pocket of his dull blue coverall, he carried an old Kindle with a spider-webbed screen and a Polaroid photograph of Violet when she was still slim and still laughed.
His days were filled by the slow geometry of pipefitting, the bone-deep clank of machinery, the shrieks and swoops of soot-stained gulls. At night, when the running lights cast wavery orange on the black water and a sea-breeze scoured at the omnipresent stench of oil, Cedric thought the rig was not so bad. At night he read Moby Dick and anything else vaguely nautical. At night, Violet was blurred beautiful by the webcam window, distended curve of her stomach cropped neatly away, and he nearly loved her again.
Some nights, Cedric stayed up top for hours to watch the starless sky and the ink-black sea. Dregs from this or that leak shimmered around the derrick’s legs. Scabs of tangled plastic bobbed between them. Some nights, Cedric thought he saw a shape moving in the water, but he knew all fish had fled long ago.
Strange Horizons Fiction: The Air We Breathe Is Stormy, Stormy, by Rich Larson:
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