Short story: “The Dala Horse”

“The Dala Horse,” by Michael Swanwick

Appeared on Tor.com, July 13th, 2011; released as episode 418 of Escape Pod on October 18th, 2013

4,686 words

Nice, but I have to admit I was a little put off by the main character (I would hesitate to call her a protagonist). Her motivations are childishly capricious and therefore uninteresting. We don’t get to see her character grow in response to her traumatic experiences, so this doesn’t really count as a loss-of-innocence story. Günther is much easier to root for. I was glad he got a somewhat happy ending.


On the nature of the will

“It’s possible to tell your mind what to do only when your mind agrees with you.”

—Archie Goodwin in A Family Affair, by Rex Stout

Well, this is refreshing

“Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.”

—William Faulkner (in this Paris Review interview)

Most writers, given the opportunity, seem unable to resist giving rather specific advice on craft.

Short story: “Immersion”

“Immersion,” by Aliette de Bodard

From Clarkesworld, issue 69, June 2012 (read and listen here); won the 2012 Nebula Award and the 2013 Locus Award; also nominated for the 2012 BSFA Award and the 2013 Hugo Award and a finalist for the 2013 Theodore Sturgeon Award; released as Escape Pod episode 408 on August 10th, 2013 (read and listen here)

5,394 words

A very provocative and sensitive piece about cultural assimilation. The problem of immersers isn’t that different from the problems of our own world—white-centric beauty standards, America-centric cultural norms—and this story is careful to make it clear that “Agnes”‘s addiction cannot be blamed on her own weakness or on any individual oppressor. Her well-meaning husband has no idea how cruel he’s been to her until it’s (almost?) too late.

Though I found the story somewhat emotionally engaging, the characterizations don’t stand out for me. I would have liked to get a deeper look at all three women. If I’d voted in the Hugos, I’m not sure if this one would have made my list. It’s a solid story, but the material would probably work better at greater length. The switches between second and third person, for example; we don’t spend enough time in second person to feel “immersed” in the character’s disoriented point of view.