Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Page 4 of 33

“Abominable” by Carol Emshwiller

A party of men set out in search of women, who have apparently wandered away and whom none of them have ever seen in person.

This feels like a satirical sibling of Joanna Russ’s “The Female Man” and “When It Changed,” seen from the point of view of the woman-less male society: self-important, ignorant, bumbling, but somehow touchingly earnest. They have strange notions of what the female separatists might be doing (I like the image of them living in giant underground kitchens), and why they disappeared (their psychoanalyst images low self-esteem must be a big part of it). When the party is called off, ostensibly for lack of funding, there’s an air of relief that they’ve abandoned their mission before completing it, the wild women imagined as monstrous and terrifying. Better to go back to base and collect their pay and medals …

“Seed Stock” by Frank Herbert

On a planet that is being unsuccessfully terraformed, a fisherman and agricultural technician consider a different approach to establishing life.

This reminded me a bit of Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Aurora”: an optimistic and ambitious effort to establish a new home for human beings – in this case, audaciously burning their boats by transforming the parts of the ship that brought them into the tools they’ll need to survive – runs into unanticipated realities when the new world is found to be far more inhospitable than imagined. In “Aurora,” the would-be colonists are able to turn back after finding there’s no Plan B; in “Seed Stock,” they opt for a different approach, accepting that the humans they were on arrival are not going to be the humans their descendants will become.

“Vicky” by A. A. de Levine

A survivor of alien abductions tasks her neighbor with transferring her soul to one of her dogs upon her death.

Though it’s published in the Taco Bell Quarterly, which has a shtick of at least one Taco Bell mention per story, this is an affecting reflection on loneliness, obsession, and belief. Actually, all of the stories I’ve read from TBQ have been pretty solid, which is more than I can say of a typical year of New Yorker issues.

“Speech Sounds” by Octavia Butler

After a strange affliction spreads that robs people of their ability to speak, read, and understand language (to varying degrees), a woman tries to find relatives and encounters tragedies.

This story offers a typically Butlerian mixture of hope and despair – the language-stealing pandemic is terrifying and sad, and the collapse of civilization is abrupt and seemingly irreversible, but a pair of speaking children suggest that perhaps all is not lost.

“Invaders” by John Kessel

Told in parallel until they intersect: conquistadors hold the Inca emperor for ransom, aliens arrive on Earth and begin buying up art and cocaine, and a science fiction writer muses about the addictive qualities of science fiction.

Clever and satirical, with an abrupt but satisfying ending.

“Those That I Fight I Do Not Hate” by Danielle McLaughlin

A man feels uncomfortable at a children’s party because of his affair with the hostess, some unfortunate events related to his drinking, and the hostess’ husband’s collection of war memorabilia.

There is remarkable language in this story – the suburban garden party and all its discomfort really comes to life – and the back story is never disclosed, allowing the reader to imagine the worst. Wry and dark.

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