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Tag: high narration-to-scene ratio

Short story: “Mirror Ball”

“Mirror Ball” or “Mirrorball,” by Mary Gaitskill

Appeared in Index (a magazine I can’t seem to track down online); collected in Don’t Cry: Stories (2009, Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc.); featured on the Knopf Doubleday site on April 24th, 2009

7,474 words

Fascinating. There’s so much abstraction, and yet the story comes through as vivid and urgent. Lots of imagery to keep it grounded.

Gaitskill seems to have a remarkable view of sex, and a remarkably dark view of casual sex and sex work. Perhaps she believes sex should be confined to stable relationships because it’s so dangerous emotionally (or rather, according to the worldbuilding of this story, spiritually). Pardon me for speculating about the author, but it’s hard to resist when the theme runs so unmistakably through other stories of hers, like “The Agonized Face.” It’s an attitude that overlaps with the puritanical, though the rawness, frankness, and intensity of her work is far from it.

How strange that this young woman (“girl”) is saved by an encounter with a homeless-looking man and by her rather inappropriate, desperate phone call. How wonderful that this young man (“boy,” thank goodness for gender parity—perhaps they are so called because of their innocent foolishness, their ignorance of the nature of souls) answers his phone when he has good reason not to.

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Short story: “We Will Be All Right”

“We Will Be All Right,” by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Appeared in Lightspeed (read and listen), issue 96, May 2018

940 words

Another rather literary plot from Lightspeed. I like it. The whole thing takes place internally, with a lot of exposition, but never gets slow.

Short story: “The Surrogate”

“The Surrogate,” by Tessa Hadley

Appeared in the New Yorker (online here), September 15th, 2003; read by Curtis Sittenfeld on the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, September 1st, 2017 (online here)

4,607 words

(Spoilers.) A really interesting, if sad, story. The main character’s fantasy is always something out of reach. I’m tagging this “failures of human connection” because Dave, who goes unnamed for such a long time, remains such a mystery; all we can sense about him, wistfully, is that he would have liked to have a real girlfriend instead of just a sex partner. It’s impossible to know whether the main character’s missed opportunity with Dave is a tragedy or just a wrinkle in her life, something to fantasize about now that they’ve gone on their very different paths.

Short stories: “The Seeds of Consciousness: 4107’s Story” and “The Final Commandment: Trey’s Story”

“The Seeds of Consciousness: 4107’s Story” and “The Final Commandment: Trey’s Story,” both by James Gunn

Appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, January/February 2018

Both about the same length, not sure how many words

These stories irritated me terribly. They consist almost entirely of expository backstory: the intelligent alien beings evolved the ability to communicate, then they went to war with other beings, then they desired the technology to visit the stars, et cetera. Seriously, that’s it. The fact that Asimov’s prints this kind of thing suggests to me that there’s a whole genre of science fiction I’m unfamiliar with, one in which this type of exposition is expected and welcomed, and which is certainly not my cup of tea. Or maybe Gunn is just a big name in this genre.

As exposition goes, it’s certainly well written, but that’s the best I can say about it.

Edited to add: Maybe I would find this more engaging if I had read his trilogy, which these pieces are closely related to.

Short story: “Pray on the Weak”

“Pray on the Weak,” by Katja L. Kaine

Appeared in Fabula Argentea, October 2nd, 2017

2404 words

Really evokes the main character’s frustration and struggle. I didn’t care for the last line, which seems to raise questions that belong in another, different story.

Short story: “The Faery Handbag”

“The Faery Handbag,” by Kelly Link

Originally published in the anthology The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm (Mythic Fiction #2) (2004, edited by Helen Datlow and Terri Windling), which was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology in 2005; posted here on the Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet website; collected in Magic for Beginners

8,088 words

This story reminded me strongly of “You Don’t Even Have a Rabbit”—the conversational tone, like somebody recounting the really weird day they just had, a tone that seems to facilitate the blurring of reality and fantasy.

Short story: “Here is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All”

“Here is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All,” by Rahul Kanakia

Appeared in Lightspeed Magazine issue 66, November 2015

2501 words

In his Author Spotlight, Kanakia says: “My writing process is changing continually, and it’s gotten to the point where I no longer have any idea how I do things. Right now, in particular, it’s going through a lot of flux. I used to write without any outline. I’d just have a character, a situation, and a sense of where I wanted things to end up. But I’ve lately come to realize that when I did this, I’d often leave out very critical elements and end up with weak stories that didn’t have strong character arcs. Basically, with each story I’d set off hoping that it would be like ‘Here Is My Thinking …’ (i.e. the kind of story that tells itself), but if it turned out to not be that sort of story, then I’d have zero idea how to turn it into something compelling.” I can sympathize with this. I almost never outline fiction, and like Kanakia, I have a sense that I leave too much up to luck. I can see how this story came together without outlining. The narrator’s story has a natural order to it that doesn’t require scene.

I don’t think the title fits, although I’ll admit it’s a good title. The situation affects humanity and the spaceship in two very different ways. Though I suppose it’s important to join the two together to some extent, given the spaceship’s attempts at compromise.

Short story: “Consumption”

“Consumption,” by David Morris

Recently appeared in Monkeybicycle

755 words

Despite the title, this story is mostly about compassion. In fiction, most second-person narration is aimed at a specific character, but here it’s the generalized “you” of public opinion, a “you” that implicates the reader. The gradual unveiling of the facts is well done.

Short story: “Cat Pictures Please”

“Cat Pictures Please,” by Naomi Kritzer

Appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, issue 100, January 2015; won Best Short Story in the Hugos; read by Miriam Krause for Escape Pod 613, February 1st, 2018

3429 words

This made me smile.

Novelette: “Investigations of a Dog”

Investigations of a Dog (Forschungen eines Hundes), by Franz Kafka

Original German found on Wikisource here

An automatic Google translation gives me 13,912 words in English

I think David Foster Wallace described this story (found it!) as having more private meaning than anything accessible to readers. And I suppose it’s probably an allegory for Jewish history or something else I don’t understand very well. But like a lot of Kafka’s stories, his animal stories especially, Investigations seems very real and meaningful to me whether or not I can make sense of it.

One thing that probably puts readers off is that, while it could be read as an elaborate exercise in defamiliarizing dogs, it doesn’t draw much power from the contrast between the reader’s and the narrator’s knowledge. It’s fun to read the narrator’s inability to see humans as something of a running joke (and it’s possible, as some have done, to decode all the events of the story through that lens), but the joke goes on long enough that it seems not to be the point of the story. The real point is—I don’t know what.

I’ve quoted this line before and I want to quote it again—it seems applicable to many things in life:

“That is my hunger,” I told myself countless times […] , as if I wanted to convince myself that my hunger and I were still two things and I could shake it off like a burdensome lover; but in reality we were very painfully one, and when I explained to myself: “That is my hunger,” it was really my hunger that was speaking and having its joke at my expense.