An “I just don’t get it” story involving Robert Reed and F&SF

So I’m sitting out on the lanai here in sunny and warm southwestern Florida. I got my Golden Age reading done this morning. I did some writing on my work in progress. And I was spending most of the rest of the afternoon going through my back issues of magazines for 2011 and catching up on stories that I missed that I want to read before the end of the year. That kind of thing, with a trade-wind like breeze blowing and a cool drink at your side, is almost paradise.

I was flipping through the May/June 2011 issue of F&SF and noted that there were two stories by Robert Reed, a writer whose stories I’ve recently grown particularly fond of. (If you haven’t yet read “Murder Born” in the February 2012 Asimov’s, you must do so at once!) So I turned to the first story, one barely 1,200 words long called “Stock Photos” and started reading.

In September of this year, I started keeping lists of the short fiction I’ve read, much in the same way that I keep a list of the books I’ve read since January 1, 1996. I post these lists at the end of each month, highlighting the ones I thought were particularly good, but not adding any additional information. However, in order to help remind me of the contents of a story (something that is necessary, I’m afraid, when reading a few hundred stories a year), in my notees, I usually write one short sentence describing the story so I can more easily recall what it was about come awards time. When I finished reading “Stock Photos” I made the entry in my list and what I wrote for a description of the story was exactly the following:

Man and woman pay another man for posing in stock photos. I didn’t get this one.

I felt kind of bad. It is pretty rare that I don’t get a story, and this is the first time it happened with a Robert Reed story. But I figured that sometimes, I guess, thinngs just go over my head. I decided to turn to the other Robert Reed story in the issue, a story called “The Road Ahead” and when I got to it, I suddenly felt better about not getting the previous story. Here is how Gordon introduced “The Road Ahead”

…we must tell you that Robert Reed’s story “Stock Photos” was popular with the whole F&SF staff, but nobody was certain just what happened in it. Everyone had theories. In fact, we considered running a reader contest to see who coould conjure up the best theory, but instead we asked Mr. Reed if there might be more to the tale. Here is what he sent back.

What he sent back, of course, was “The Road Ahead” which I am about to read as soon as I finish this post. But I must say that my own critical accumen impressed me in this case. I worried that I would be the only other person in the world not to get what happened in Reed’s story. Turns out I’m right there with everyone else.

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