I have piles –boxes, actually--of to-be-read books that I’ll probably never read, and
files of to-be-read books and stories in folders on my computer, a few of which I just might read under the right circumstances. Lately the circumstances have not been right. To tell the truth, circumstances have not felt right for a long time. I used to at least read through any anthologies that included my own work, but these days I tend to just cherry-pick a few stories by people I know. I'm ashamed about that.
I have been reading up a storm lately, though, but not in books, except for some I’m rereading as research for a project I’m working on. Maybe I should say reading in the midst of a storm. I wasn’t reading fiction, exactly but when it comes down to it, the sturm und drang of this election cycle has been teeming with non-facts, as well as battling perspectives that seem to represent alternate worlds. Blogs and posts and magazine/newspaper articles shared by friends on Facebook and elsewhere have been sucking me right in. At this point there isn’t anything new to be said, but that doesn’t stop me from being sucked in, although I mostly manage to avoid the dreaded “comments”sections.
This weeks OGG topic, fortunately, has shamed me into doing some old-fashioned fiction reading, dipping into my files of stories saved to be read sometime or other, usually recommendations from friends or work nominated for the Nebula Awards and made available for free to SFWA members, who are eligible to vote. However much I’ve neglected writing speculative fiction in recent (and not –so-recent) years, I still pay my SFWA dues.
It turns out that I hadn’t saved as many of these stories as I thought I had, but I read several of them, and one in particular struck me as suited to these times in a twisted sort of way. Alyssa Wong’s short story “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” won both the Nebula and Hugo awards this year, and was a finalist for several others including the Stoker Award in the horror genre, so it had been stuck in my mind as something I really should read. Now, with the war between feminism and misogyny raging, was certainly the right time. The story is not overtly political, but it certainly strikes a chord when you’re enraged by the harassment and vituperation women have been experiencing.
It’s hard to discuss a short story without revealing too much. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but it’s the concept and the striking prose that matters most, rather than the plot. It begins, as so many stories do these days, with a date set up through an online dating site, which didn’t interest me until about the fifth line, when the first-person narrator says of her date, “his thoughts, covered in spines and centipede feet, glisten with ancient grudges and carry an entitled, Ivy League stink.” Not only can she read his thoughts, she can see them in visions of ugly, nasty creatures. And she knows what to do about them, and him. She has, in fact, picked him out from the dating lists for that very reason, and the fact that he turns out to be not only nasty but a an outright killer makes him all the better.
I did say that the story was a finalist for a horror award, right? That wouldn’t have interested me, but winning the Nebula and Hugo awards did, and current events put me in the mood for this masterfully written twist on some old tropes.
The other stories I read recently were worth reading, but mostly of the apocalyptic persuasion, and didn’t make as much of an impression. Or I wasn’t in the right mood. I fervently hope that I’m not in an apocalyptic mood any time soon, but no guarantees.