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Spotlight on: We Now Pause for Station Identification by Gary A. Braunbeck

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We Now Pause for Station Identification by Gary A. Braunbeck Gary A. Braunbeck, We Now Pause for Station Identification

I have to say I am not too keen on the recent trend of releasing a single short story, calling it a chapbook, and charging around $10.00 USD for it. But every once in a while, a story deserves to be seen on its own, and not lost in the shuffle of an anthology or a collection. What I'm trying to decide is if Gary Braunbeck's We Now Pause for Station Identification is one of those.

Zombies have been the big thing recently in horror fiction, and it seems that every author has tried to put his particular stamp on the subgenre. Reportedly, Braunbeck held back until he had just the right angle for him, and the result is We Now Pause for Station Identification. The story has an intriguing premise: Zombies are taking over outside world, and a talk-radio DJ is essentially trapped in his booth, rambling on about whatever it takes to retain his sanity to whomever is still listening.

His words are the text, with no descriptions or anything other than his steadily declining monologue. Braunbeck always manages to tap into the emotions of horror fiction, and We Now Pause for Station Identification is no different. The author's word choice is phenomenal, saying in just a few what would take others entire paragraphs to get across. And learning very little about what is going on outside from the limited viewpoint of the protagonist only makes the possible outcome that much more mysterious. Suspense is created in something as mundane as whether he will make it back from the restroom. (Only the cover art by Chad Savage gives any inkling of the effects of the event.)

The tightness of Braunbeck's prose in We Now Pause for Station Identification is mirrored in its claustrophobic setting. Just one man in a radio booth, wondering what is going on, no one calling him on the phone despite repeated pleas, hope disappearing minute by minute, and soon there is evidence that the event is making its way into the studio. What can a lone man do against an onslaught of the undead? If this were Mars Attacks!, he could play Slim Whitman at them, but otherwise what are his choices?

And here is where I think Braunbeck fumbles the ball: the author gives up too soon. The story is only thirteen pages long, and could have easily been expanded to fill twice as many pages. Perhaps he made the choice because he didn't want We Now Pause for Station Identification to devolve into the usual tropes of zombie horror, to keep his version just that much different from the rest. I just know I was disappointed that the story ended as soon as it did, especially after Braunbeck worked so hard to make me care about the character.

Unfortunately, that decision smudges the shine on what could have been a great story, but as it is, We Now Pause for Station Identification is still a solid piece of short fiction and a prime example of why Gary Braunbeck is one of the highlights of the horror genre. In addition, the Horror Writers of America saw fit to give it their highest honor: the Bram Stoker Award for the best piece of short fiction published in 2005.

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