“Dead Fads,” by Maureen F. McHugh
First appeared in the Readercon 24 Souvenir Book (2013); here in the December 2013 Lightspeed Magazine
4,663 words according to Lightspeed
This piece impressed me with its sensitivity. The Dead are a pretty blatant stand-in for the marginalized races and classes in our own society, and the story could easily get heavy-handed. But the “Pre-Dead” narrator never reads as a cheap caricature. The way she talks about the Dead (starting from the very first sentence) is painfully believable. They’re curiosities to her, a way to make herself feel edgy and bohemian, people but also symbols, friends but also scary Others. By contrast, the reader has no trouble recognizing Cory and the other Dead people as ordinary human beings, and recognizing PD’s behavior as rude and clueless.
PD has enough depth that the pain of losing her artistic obsession doesn’t come off as just another facet of her self-absorption. The ending raises the question of how an artist can be faithful to her vision—an inherently private, selfish, shortsighted thing—without harming others.