William Preston. Helping Them Take The Old Man Down. (Asimovs March 2010).

A classy story from Preston, as is clear from the opening line ‘When I married, late and surprised, I hadn’t heard from the old man for two years’. The ‘late and surprised’ is such a subtle touch, and sets up the reader nicely. The ‘old man’ we find out is an almost fabled figure, a character who has stood up for good, against evil, for decades. The name by which the ‘old man’ is known for his exploits, is not given. There aren’t superhero powers through which the man operates, so you can rule out the caped hero type. I did wonder about it being a reference to Captain America, but I reckon not, and my knowledge of 1930s US comic book figures is somewhat limited.

Whilst having virtually superhuman strengths and abilities, ‘the old man’ operates through a network of associates whom he recruits, and from whom he was given this epithet. The narrator is reflecting on his relationship with the old man, and of the adventures he has undertaken as part of that role. But he is doing that in retrospect. Surely the old man must by now be dead? But newer security forces, in the post 9/11 world, believe that he may well be still alive, as the offices he leased in one of the twin towers were vacated a month before that date.

And in addition to the suggestion that he may have known of the imminent attack, there is then raised the question over his lack of response to the needs of the 6m who went through the death camps.

So, in this new, changed world, a much, much more complicated world, where do loyalties lie? Should the old ways be protect and accepted for being a function of past times? Or do the new requirements, and the resultant (in)sensibilities require that even the most heroic of heroes are required to stand up and be counted, even deep into retirement?

It’s a subtle, clever story.

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