Friday, August 6, 2010

2010 Hugo nominee (and Nebula winner), short story: "Spar" by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)

Now, this is a short story. Rather than give a little hint of a broader world or tell a cute vignette, this novel takes an unusual (and provocative) situation and uses it to briefly explore ideas of alien otherness, sexuality, and psychology.
The story is not for the easily offended. There are graphic (though mostly evocative rather than descriptive) depictions of sex. In fact, that’s pretty much the entire story.

There’s so little plot here, I’m afraid to spoil it. Let’s just say it involves the interactions of a female narrator and a very non-humanoid alien, whose ship she is trapped on after an accident. We get hints of what has happened, and we get a sense of how the narrator mourns and how lost she is. Taken straight, it’s an original depiction of alien interactions and the psychology of a desperate situation, but I think the story also has deeper things to say about sex and relationships. It actually makes some of the same points as Palimpsest, though I things it's sharper for being shorter.

Overall, the story is more than the sum of its small word count, something that’s rare and special in short fiction.

Available at Clarkesworld in both print and audio.

Grade: A-

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