Wednesday, April 14, 2010

2010 Hugo (and Nebula) nominee, short story: "Bridesicle" by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)

I've taken a few opportunities on this blog to declare my dislike for the short story as a literary format. I will eventually cover short stories in greater depth - they're too important to the history of the genre to ignore - and I've decided to cover the short fiction Hugo nominees here as well. I enjoyed this first entry quite a bit, though it still demonstrates why the format bothers me.

Mira was cryogenically frozen after dying in a horrible accident. Decades later, the technology exists to revive frozen corpses like Mira, but the procedure is expensive, so many bodies simply sit in cold storage. Mira awakes, however, to learn that some company has taken an ingenious approach to the situation by creating a dating service. Wealthy men looking for brides can shop the cryogenic storage facility and pay to revive any women they like. For decades, Mira awakes only briefly and only in the context of awkward dates with prowling men. The fact that Mira was a lesbian only makes the situation more complicated.

It's a rich and inventive set-up, and McIntosh portrays Mira quite well as a desperate and sympathetic character. It's also a plot that, by itself, probably would not carry a novel. And yet there's so much implicit drama here that McIntosh doesn't have space to develop. There are questions of coercion and sexuality, and a clear metaphor for mail-order brides, and, perhaps, other more common non-romantic reasons for marriage. There are big questions about the future of gender relationships - why do only men shop for women? Why, hundreds of years in the future, would everyone assume Mira is straight? There's even a whole subplot about transferred consciences - called "hitchers" - that has further implications, but we really only see an over-the-top nagging mother portrayed. In other words, I wanted more. Maybe not a full novel, but more than the evocative sketch we get here.

By the way, I started with this story because it was conveniently available in audio format thanks to the StarShipSofa podcast. It's a very nice weekly collection of short stories by great authors and a few editorials on the sf world - highly recommended for fans of science fiction. It's also the first podcast to be nominated for a Hugo (Best Fanzine category).

Grade: B+

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