There are at least two stories on any one page: the one the reader generates in the reading of it and the one in the writer generates in the writing. This is the writer’s version.
Hive insects have queens whose only function is to produce the next generation. Humans have formalised this process for many animals in zoos, on farms, and in our own homes, and so we have brood mares, stud cats – or dogs or goats or horses or bulls – and ‘breeding stock’ of all kinds. We also breed our royalty so that both our kings and our queens have a duty to provide ‘an heir and a spare’, and at the other end of the scale, there is an underworld that breeds children of the right ethnicity for adoption into families willing to pay and not ask. ‘Spider’ is the story of a victim of entrapment for breeding and their fantasies about escape.
Anyone who has experienced entrapment might find a resonance with this tale. The genders of the victim and the perpetrator are deliberately undefined.
I had just started writing this when I saw that the author of Digging Deep, which followed mine on EDF, had done exactly the same thing. His account of the genesis of his story lets us into the history of it, the emotional drive, and also the subtext that, for better or for worse, is so often implied rather than exposed in very short fiction.
Aaron Polson wrote in his blog about the intensity of feeling that underpinned Digging Deep because he wanted us to know, I imagine, how deeply he felt that connection. It is important to him and it adds deeper currents to the stream of his story. I liked his story and I felt a great deal of his connection with the theme, but his account of its inception adds another colour to my palette of appreciation and it enhances my satisfaction with the whole. Why? Because I know more now and I like knowing a bit more. It does not detract from the fiction, or rationalise it or subvert it or explain it or in any way make up for any perceived inadequacy in it. It is instead the thing upon which it rests, the mount that enhances it and adds new light and shade.
So what about No Animals? This was not universally loved, it must be said, with at least one person unable even to read it all the way through. Others liked the feisty heroine and gave it five stars, while some were confused about what was happening. If they read it the way I read most of the non-literary fiction I have delivered to my inbox, I am not at all surprised much of it escaped people so that all they were left with was a character some people really did not like and a scenario they found difficult to understand. These are the issues I was aiming to present, and they are admittedly, unlike Aaron’s, somewhat explanatory:
- Difference and the inability to ‘see’ another group, race, or identity. Setting aside the actual likelihood of there being a species so utterly unlike ours biologically, these people are nevertheless much like us in that they are sentient, they like to be entertained, and they have codes of practice, yet they could not recognise sentient life when it was so different from their own. I wonder how much better we would do in similar circumstances.
- The role of women in fiction. In so many TV and film productions, they are just victims – there to scream and be helpless while the hero sets about either saving them or investigating their death. This character is neither, instead she wise-cracks her way to a death that is not investigated but is certainly regretted. Real women do wise-crack in adversity, despite what the media would have us believe.
- Victim-blaming. There is also the commonly held belief that getting wasted makes whatever happens to you, especially if you are female, pretty much your own fault, and this character has been on a celebratory bender that might have been exacerbated by spiking of her drinks by her colleagues. Subsequent to that is the ‘hazing’ to which she is subjected – shoved out into space by workmates as drunk as she is on the assumption they can haul her capsule back in again when they wish. So who is to blame for this? All of them for getting drunk? The tradition of bullying that is titled ‘hazing’ because it is accepted? The character for buying into it? And is it worse, more blame-worthy, because she is a mother?
- Responsibility and culpability. We live in a litigious and often scape-goating world but most mistakes for which individuals are blamed are actually systemic. The main character’s crewmates make an honest if stupid mistake when they send her out in the capsule. The aliens make an honest if ignorant mistake when they fail to see her as sentient. What is to blame there but, for each of them, a failure to take all eventualities into consideration, and how many of us do that?
- Reality TV and the treatment of vulnerable participants. So often, we see people whose personal difficulties make them good TV and ‘willing’ victims who will suffer without knowing why. In this story, the aliens are trying to avoid harm by only using non-sentient artificial intelligences for their extreme reality shows, and in their ignorance, they fail to recognise this woman as a life form. Why? Perhaps because, like much of our own media, theirs is populated by arts graduates who have not the faintest idea of anything scientific, so they take the data they are given as absolute and make no further checks of their own. They do not recognise life because they are incapable of thinking outside their box, in the same way that many of our own reality shows fail consistently to recognise participant vulnerabilities because they are not trained, and also they do not wish to see them. They have a schedule and that is their priority – a recognisable problem for many of us.
- Ethics and how these can tie us in knots. The aliens here are conservers of both life and materials and so they clean up near space and use only robotic entities for entertainment in situations that are likely to end in perceived (by the audience) destruction. This combination of ideals is central to the terrible consequences that ensue.
So the subtext of No Animals is ethics, ignorance, honest mistakes and their implications, bullying disguised as tradition, and gender role stereotyping. I am a fan of ethics, I understand how people make mistakes, but I abhor remediable ignorance, bullying, and unwarranted gender based pigeon-holing of individuals. This story took a bit of a pop at all that and yes, thank you, I feel a lot better now!
Another little dose of weird:
After a while, with the streets and parks getting less cluttered, it started to look as if some cosmic recycler had dropped by to tidy us up. So then people stopped using the bins and just hung about with their cameras waiting for their banana skin or whatever to take off.
Read More: http://zouchmagazine.com/puddles-like-pillows/#ixzz2dFpRSbtW
Zouche has been away for a while but now it’s back with its lovely graphics and varied content and I’m delighted to be back too [see A Tale of Two Sixties 2011].
That brave lady, Folly Blaine, is wrestling most expertly with a canny orange tabby and a maverick veterinary ‘researcher’ in ‘Cat Nav’. Up in podcast so you don’t have to try to pronounce ‘prestidigitator’ even in your head.
‘Oars for Legs’:
It’s very embarrassing to have a spasm in the middle of a – how shall we say – romantic interlude. Even more so when you have succeeded in trapping your paramour by the genitals and pinned him up against the wall. Cerebral palsy can be a bugger sometimes.
Out on Full of Crow: disability positive with a giggle and a smidgen of nearly-there science.
Do you remember ‘No Arrests in 2039′ on Every Day Fiction? No? Great – it’ll be all fresh when you listen to the podcast then! And you might think twice about falling crime statistics …
‘When Izzy’s eyelids got burned off, she had to watch all the time without blinking – apart from the frog-lick that slides across side-to-side, but you can see through that so there’s no escape and she’s been watching since Jinty started making the dance. ‘ In Lancaster university’s 2013 anthology of MA creative writing. Contributors are part time and distance students. ‘Dance to the Wild Ice’ is set in the same world as ‘All the Birthdays‘ and it’s on P5. Go on, unsettle yourself!
Speckles in the Sky is a tiny piece of magical realism I wrote for a friend’s retirement, because, obviously, I’ll do anything to get out of trying to think of something witty to say in three square millimetres on a card. It starts like this:
‘Coming on nicely,’ said the man jogging by. ‘Nearly there.’
Lynda turned to check out the source of this odd intrusion. Her heels spun and she almost lost her balance; damn council, leaving the pavements in disrepair. She twisted back again and found herself rotating the other way, like a rapper’s disc on a concrete turntable. Maybe it wasn’t the pavement, maybe it was the wine …
And it finishes over on TPS.