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.


  1. I bought a bunch of "Asimov'S SF" magazines from, like, 1979-1988 or so, and noticed a lot of mundanity in the stories therein, too.

    Boring. Really fucking boring.

    I'm with you, man.

  2. You've got to be kidding me. Spar was chosen as the Nebula best short story? I read this when it was first published in Clarkesworld, and was bored out of my mind.

    But, you know, I see this sort of thing all the time: fantasy and sci fi 'zines that publish stories that are not fantasy or science fiction. You're right; Spar is not a science fiction story, the space ship is window-dressing.

    This is the sort of pretentious, artsy crap that so turned me off the now defunct Realms of Fantasy. It's rare to see a short story that is just an entertaining, fun tale. I wonder if many of these magazines would condescend to publish a story that wasn't brimming over with allegory?

    Now you've got me fuming.

  3. That tale sounds rather disturbing, to say the least. Even more disturbing than an 8 - 0 World Series blow out. On the other hand, happy haunting to you all!

  4. I just read it, and could not be bothered to finish it.

    One of the comments said it was "provocative." I found it to be nothing of the sort. The author has clearly watched too much tentacle-porn.

  5. Often the Nebula award is more an award for an individual than an actually engaging story. For my money the Hugo's are almost always more indicative of quality.

  6. Man, the description of the story actually makes it sound like a fictional "serious science fiction" story you see in some other movie/story parodying the genre.


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