Bears Discover Fire


In 1990, Terry Bisson’s short story “Bears Discover Fire” won all the awards in science fiction. (Odd, since there’s no science in it.) January of 2014, Lightspeed Magazine put it online for free.

This story has puzzled me for a long time. Why is it a story at all, let alone a good story?

(You have to read the story to understand this post.)

Nobody in the story seems to know what they want. There’s no struggle or deliberate action. There are three narratives:

1. The narrator’s relationship with his brother. The narrator is more old-fashioned, and less uptight. His brother is one of those people who thinks they know everything. They have a disagreement about how to raise his brother’s son. Nothing major.

2. Bears discover fire. Also, they discover a new kind of berry.

3. The narrator’s mother. She lives in an old folks home. She’s bored. She goes to sit by the fire with the bears. Then she dies.

That’s it. Three narratives, none of which are a story, none of which connect to each other except circumstantially. None of them seem to support, parallel, or relate to the others.

So why are they a story when you put them together? I like this story, but I don’t know why.