Back again with another random walk through Ray Bradbury’s early short fiction, because that’s what happens during rainy Wisconsin summers: we pull out Golden Age stories and imagine ourselves into interplanetary peril.

Final Victim is a longer story, spending more time developing cross sections between a bunch of characters, from the morally dubious but untouchable lawman Jim Skeel (great name) to the asteroid-dodging hotshot Nadia Miller (another great name). Many shorts eschew the kind of setting development and background Final Victim goes through, but if the end is worth the journey, then isn’t that time well spent?

This story checks off all the boxes you’d want from an action sci-fi tale – you’ve got monsters, space stations, lasers and the constant threat of imminent, brutal demise. It’s best part, though, is the ending twist, which I won’t spoil, but will instead mention that it only works because we – even in this short time – understand how the characters come to their actions.

In other words, it’s a twist, but after the initial surprise, you’re not shocked or confused as to how it came to happen. It’s not random – the killer hasn’t returned from the grave, or the narrator doesn’t suddenly reveal them been lying to the reader the entire time. No, it’s a logical consequence resulting from the logical decisions of people in desperate situations.

A lotta twist endings are slaps to the face – designed to shock and awe. This is more like a cookie dough smoothie – delicious and fulfilling, and earned through the sheer exercise of working your way through all those pages.

So yeah, Final Victim is a fun jaunt of a tale that’ll take you a bit longer than the average short to read (it even has chapters), but set aside an hour and you’ll be rewarded.

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