Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is the Nebula Best Short Story Even Really Sci-Fi?

Something that really bugs me, but that I've never ranted about on my blog before, is the basic mundanity that's creeping into a lot of modern fantasy and science fiction these days. In my fairly traditional opinion, quality F/SF should have some fantastic aspect that is absolutely fundamental to the story. For instance, if you can replace the weird setting, futuristic objects, or strange aliens with mundane settings, objects, or characters, and the core theme of the story is preserved, then it's not really F/SF.

This is the reason I'm painfully disappointed by this year's Nebula Best Short Story selection: Spar by Kij Johnson. It's a very short and purposely unpleasant story that describes a woman trapped in a small spaceship with an uncommunicative alien blob that rapes her relentlessly. The descriptions of alien sex are interspersed with the woman's memories of an uncommunicative husband. Okay... so the story is a paper thin allegory for the breakdown of communication in a romantic relationship. And, as far as mainstream literature goes, I guess it's a fine little tale. I feel very strongly, however, that the exact same story could have been told without the alien blob and without the spaceship. In this story the sci-fi setting is just window dressing on a generic human interest story. The woman could just as easily have been stuck on a life raft in the Atlantic getting humped by an albatross.

I'm frankly pissed off that stories like this are being chosen as the finest examples of what our genre has to offer. It's a sad betrayal of the F/SF tradition.