The characters really sell this story. The protagonist in particular is quite charming: he’s ‘the old-fashioned one in the family (so they tell me), I fix my own tires and my brother is always telling me to get radials and quit buying old tires. But if you know how to mount and fix tires yourself, you can pick them up for almost nothing.’
I don’t know what’s so appealing about this character’s pride in being able to repair his own tires, especially when he’s teaching his nephew the skill. His mother’s engaging as well, claiming to have driven a million miles during the forty-nine years she worked as a school bus driver. She’s been on the verge of death at a nursing home for several seasons, but she’s still as animated as ever.
This is the core of the story: a tale of the world changing while the main character ambles along, doing as best as he can, all of it told in a light-hearted, sometimes funny manner with the air of a handed down reminiscence.
Oh, and bears discover how to light fires. They learn how to do this offstage, and until the end we’re only made aware of it by news coverage; how they now plan to stay awake during the winter rather than hibernate. The characters are interested in this development but not passionately so. To the protagonist, this is just another facet of the world changing around them, and in the meantime there are tires his nephew needs to learn how to fix.
Bears Discover Fire by Terry Bisson
Availability: print, free audio
Word count: 4,200
Awards: Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Locus Award, Theodore Sturgeon Award, SF Chronicle Award, World Fantasy Award nominee
First published: Asimov’s, August 1990
Where to find it: There’s a free audio recording on Drabblecast here
Bears Discover Fire and other stories, collection, 1993, Tor
Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century, edited by Orson Scott Card, 2004, Ace
Modern Classics of Fantasy, edited by Gardner Dozois, 1997, St Martin’s Press
The Secret History of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle, 2010, Tachyon Publications