It’s Hugo nomination season, and I’m going to Worldcon for the first time. Actually, I’ve only ever been to one other convention, and that was GeekGirlCon in Seattle, so conventions in general are new for me. I’m excited not only about the convention itself, but also about being able to nominate and vote for stories I think deserve attention.
One of those stories is “Everything Must Go” by Brooke Wonders from Clarkesworld 74 (November 2012), available in print and in audio format. “Everything Must Go” is the story of a family breaking apart and the house which tries — though it is constrained by its form — to save the family and itself. The story is told through a Housing Offered classified ad, a technique which foreshadows the ultimate failure of the house to keep the family together while giving the story a perfect structure. The family’s story is told in metaphor, where their fears and hopes are literalized; the alcoholic father transforms into the glass of his liquor bottles, the son who wants to run away grows wings, the mother who doesn’t want to lose her family connects them to her using the strings with which she constructs textile art, and the daughter who wants to disappear wishes she could fold herself up like she folds origami. These first few literalizations are more obvious, and they occur at the beginning of the story. But as the story progresses, the literalizations become more complicated and affecting, taken steps deeper than one at first imagines they will be taken, and the house itself becomes very much its own character with its own hopes, fears, memory, and character arc. “Everything Must Go” is an honest portrayal of a family affected by alcoholism.
“Devour”by Ferrett Steinmetz (EscapePod #331) tells the story of a man who watches his husband be consumed by a monster. Bruce and Sergio are a couple who, throughout their relationship, have always been opposites in terms of their political opinions; Bruce is a pro bono lawyer who fought for human rights and attended peace rallies, while Sergio was a right-wing plumber, a firm supporter of the war. The war in this story, between China and America, is over. It is never described in great detail; the reader receives only enough information to inform the dynamic between Sergio and Bruce. Neither China nor America is guiltless; there is no real villain, which is fair to real life.
In the story, China has released a form of bio warfare, a virus which when inhaled overwrites people’s DNA, turning their bodies into the body of Patient Zero, a man who the Chinese government injected with chemicals and turned into a monster, powerful and infectious, then ground and released his body as bombs into America, or something. The specifics are not the focus of the story. The bio warfare didn’t work, affecting only a small amount of Americans. However, China’s virus, Patient Zero, still lurks in the pipes, where Sergio has contracted it. As he morphs into Patient Zero, a conflicted Bruce — torn between his former peaceful self and the man who, as he watches his husband die, longs for vengeance — keeps watch over Sergio and waits for the moment he will have to kill him.
The love story, told in flashbacks which fit into the story and provide a poignant break from the heart-wrenching scenes of Sergio’s transformation, is sweet and authentic. The confliction between Sergio and Bruce is convincing, as is the confliction between Sergio and Patient Zero as they share the body which is quickly ridding itself of Sergio completely. And Bruce’s confliction with himself, his struggle to hold himself to his own previous standards when he’s been personally affected by the war, is the most arresting of all the story’s conflictions.
In the end, “Devour” is a story about overcoming hatred, about overcoming prejudice. It is not a story about the war that takes place among nations, but the wars which take place between and inside people.
And as for the John W. Campbell award, I would love to see Mur Lafferty on the ballot again this year. It’s her second year of qualification, and though her qualifying professional sale, a short story included in The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, provides a great example of Mur’s quirky, innovative humor, it’s her book-length works and podcasts which really impress me; she has been one of the first writers to truly embrace the podcasting form, releasing several books as podcasts, including her novel Playing for Keeps, a cliché-shattering superhero story which follows not the best superheroes but those endowed with less impressive gifts — the power to smell the past, to balance a tray and never drop it, to control elevators. Her podcast I Should Be Writing has helped aspiring writers figure out the world of writing since 2005, and under her editorship, the fiction podcast EscapePod began paying professional rates. Her first professionally published book The Shambling Guide to New York City will be out in May of this year. Mur has been such a force in the speculative fiction world, she definitely deserves another go at the Campbell.