Reading with the Arena: Knife Fight by David Nickle


Knife Fight by David Nickle is a short story that I first heard on the Pseudopod Podcast last year. You can still find it there, narrated by the awesome Dave Robison, whose voice should be in your head for every pulp reading from now until the end of time. Nickle himself is a Bram Stoker award winner and you can find his newest anthology here.

The story is simple. The town Mayor and his office settle disputes by knife fight. The goal isn’t to kill, but to draw first blood. When people find themselves opposed to the mayor’s will, or wish to push through their own projects, they bring a knife to a parking garage, grease up, and the fight begins.

The story is Fight Club for bureaucrats and politicians. It’s about dominance and respect. When a reporter tries to dismantle the mayor’s office and expose his corruption and short comings, the only way to get the mayor’s attention is to take a knife from his pocket and stab it into the mayor’s desk.

On the surface it sounds basic. It sounds like unrealistic pulp and bravado unchecked by modern sensibilities, and in some ways it is. Perhaps that’s why I love it so much. I’m a fan of clear combat, the understanding of movement and precise violence. When I’m reading this story, I can smell the old exhaust of the parking garage, the goose fat dripping down the fighters, and the clear Thursday night air. Nickle’s strong command of language elevates the story to a lofty heights. It could easily be considered high-brow pulp, for which our own Joseph Devon is known for.

One of the most fascinating aspects of becoming a writer is finding your own voice. I chose this story because it showed me that you could successfully write hyper-masculine violence with grace and talent. It showed me that you don’t have to bow down to the delicate sensibilities of the Tumblr generation. Robert E. Howard’s unflinching barbarism doesn’t have to be a relic of past ages. Characters don’t have to be tortured by their violent actions, but can relish in the holy nature of combat.

Without this story I would have been too afraid to write Broken Chains. I would still be trying to please audiences with broad appeal instead of trying to express myself honestly. Knife Fight helped to set my writing free.

Seriously, if you haven’t listened or read it yet, go here and do it now.

Tony Southcotte: Tony hails from the Rocky Mountains somewhere around the state of Colorado. Possibly raised by grizzly bears, this gritty denizen of the arena now spends most of his time grappling with Java updates and dysfunctional RAM. With not much fiction under his belt, it might seem tempting to bet against Mister Southcotte, but an impressive knowledge of everything from PVC pipe to psychedelic drugs makes Tony a storehouse of fiction waiting to hit the paper. Plus, you know, there’s the possibility of him ripping you apart like a grizzly bear.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply