REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday features two selections of science fiction with a sinister vibe, the opening story from Peter Watts’ forthcoming collection, Beyond the Rift, and a story from the recently released anthology In Space No One Can Hear You Scream.
BRIEF SUMMARY: Parasitic extraterrestrials feature in both of this week’s stories; one visits Earth and finds it a hostile place while the other chooses a pet from among Earth’s population only to discover that a pre-teen girl may not have been the wisest choice.
PROS: Strong prose in the Watts’ story; engaging young character in Daniel’s tale; fun takes on the alien-as-parasite trope.
CONS: Final line in one story is potentially offensive and may color what is an otherwise good story.
BOTTOM LINE: An alternate viewpoint of John Carpenter’s The Thing makes for a page-turning read and Tony Daniel’s story, chosen at random, provides a nice comparison as each story examines the idea of aliens assimilating mankind for their own reasons. One story looks at things from the alien point of view while the other shows the tenacity of a young lady to remain fully human. Both were enjoyable and worth checking out as further examples of science fiction with a frightful edge.
“The Things” by Peter Watts
An alien awakens in Antarctica only to realize that the crash which stranded it here happened a long time ago. Its attempts to take “communion” with the creatures it discovers is met with hostility. With violence that threatens its existence, the being does what it must to survive.
Peter Watts’ highly lauded short story is a look at John Carpenter’s The Thing from the point of view of the alien. The film itself is based on a John W. Campbell story, “Who Goes There?”. The initial confusion of the protagonist is shared with the reader as the story begins from a place where it is not entirely apparent what is going on and as things come into focus the reader’s expectations of and reactions to the alien undergo a metamorphosis. Watts’ story has a palpable sense of fear and dread that lies just under the surface, keeping the pacing tight without distracting from the connections the reader is supposed to be making with the protagonist. It is easy to see why Watt’s story has been nominated for and won several awards. Stories and films like The Thing are entertaining but also commonplace in that there are many examples of aliens being treated as monsters meant only for destruction, whereas “The Things” gives readers a chance to see past the initial, very understandably human, reaction of violence to the intentions of the alien and how it is interpreting the things it is experiencing. What was a very strong story was derailed for this reader by the last line of the story, one that references an all-too-common topic that is often mishandled in science fiction. It is a line that makes an impact, and certainly a shocking one, but left this reader with a bad taste in his mouth.
“The Things” made its first appearance in Clarkesworld magazine and is also available as an audio podcast here.
“Frog Water” by Tony Daniel
By contrast, Tony Daniel’s short also looks at a parasitic alien race only instead of the action occurring on Earth, the scene of his story takes place on an alien craft returning to its home world after harvesting a young pre-teen girl for eventual assimilation. Megan was ten years old when she went to bed and dreamed of a bright light, only to wake up inside an alien craft in the custody of a slug-like alien named Aleria who is slowly preparing Megan to become a part of her. Though Megan sees herself as nothing but a pet, Aleria sees her as a daughter, to the point of wanting to be called “Mother”. The reader sees the events unfolding through the eyes of Megan, and Daniel does a nice job of capturing the pre-adolescent voice and personality. Having first experienced the young teen heroine in science fiction through the work of Robert A. Heinlein (“The Menace From Earth” and Podkayne of Mars in particular) it is hard not to compare similar stories. Daniel’s tale holds up nicely and Megan proves to be an entertaining and resourceful heroine who demonstrates that you just shouldn’t pick on Earthlings, even if they appear to be merely children.
I enjoyed “Frog Water” very much and recommend giving it a read. The “fright” of this story lies largely in the idea of a person being taken somewhere against their will, in addition to the equally frightening idea of losing one’s identity by being assimilated into another entity.
Well, there you have it. A couple of weeks looking at science fiction shorts that have a frightening edge just in time for the Halloween season. I hope you give them a try, and feel free to recommend more scary science fiction shorts that you have partaken of and enjoyed. Suggestions are always welcome.