Judge Sn Goes Golfing

by John Scalzi

Cover image

Artist: Gahan Wilson
Publisher: Subterranean
Copyright: 2009
Printing: 2012
ISBN: 1-59606-479-X
Format: Kindle
Pages: 32

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As you may have guessed, this is yet another short story by Scalzi that was rolled into the Subterranean Scalzi Super Bundle. This one is a bit longer than the ones I've previously reviewed, and is also illustrationed. Unlike some of the others, it's not available on-line for free... as a written work at least. There's an abridged audio version available for free from Subterranean Press's web site, though. Like the other stories I've reviewed so far, it's humor, but I think it's a bit more successful and substantial than the previous short stories.

Judge Bufan Nigun Sn is an extremely foul-tempered alien judge who loves to golf, despite being terrible at it. He's a sort of circuit court judge for a larger galactic civilization, of which Earth is now part. (There's a smattering of background world-building, but it's not the core of the story.) Golf is his passion, in several senses of the word: his habit of getting into nasty fights with his fellow players and otherwise making public and occasionally injurious scenes has gotten him banned from every course in the Washington DC area, both public and private. Except, that is, for Dulles Woods, a dire, badly-maintained course designed via nepotism and theft whose business model is primarily based on letting the people banned from every other course golf there. And charging them extra to let caddies accompany them.

The plot of this story is about a particular game of golf, dramatically foreshadowed by the opening sentence. But the story is really about Judge Sn's relationship to golfing and to the notorious Dulles Woods. It's one of the better jobs I've seen of writing a thoroughly unlikable person into a gloriously foul-tempered charm. It's also a story about a golf course and golfer who thoroughly deserve each other, and about how it feels to suddenly have something go right after grinding out hours and hours of work on a hobby that is supposed to be fun but manages to fall into some horribly compelling middle ground between enjoyment and rage-inducing frustration.

Speaking as someone who is known to grind out video game completions while swearing at the television, I can sympathize.

I got thoroughly hooked by Scalzi's descriptions of Judge Sn's mental state and enjoyed this story far more than I expected to. Sadly, when the plot does finally arrive, I thought it was a letdown. Scalzi throws in a highly improbable coincidence to create action, and while that's a legitimate plot technique (particularly in humor), it works best when the author goes back afterwards and fills in the back story of the coincidence. Pratchett does this extremely well. Scalzi, alas, doesn't really bother, and while suspension of disbelief isn't as relevant for this sort of story, I thought it was a missed opportunity. The ending seemed to be missing some sort of punch or background twist.

That said, I really liked the character study and I think the story is well worth the 99 cents it's still selling for on the Kindle (and quite possibly other platforms; I haven't checked). If buying short stories on the Kindle is something you want to do, I recommend this one to your attention.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2013-04-08

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21