Short Fiction Appreciation by Rich Larson

by on Nov 6, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Most short stories are forgettable. Not necessarily bad, but forgettable. You read them and you say, huh. Or hmm. Or nice. And move on. Some of them you like enough to bookmark, but, like with most bookmarks, you never actually go back. So the stories that you not only bookmark, but actually re-read three or four or more times, those are special.

For me, one of those stories is “Aye, and Gomorrah” by Samuel R. Delany. I don’t remember how I came across it in the first place—my bookmark is for Sci Fiction, via the Wayback Machine—but I re-read it every couple years. It might not be accurate to say I like the story. I don’t get warm fuzzies off it, or ignited passion, or resounding satisfaction. But it’s a story that fascinates me.

First, for the confusion. “Aye, and Gomorrah” opens in media res and never really slows down. It’s frenetic. We come down in Paris, then Houston, then a detour to Matamoros before we’re on to Istanbul. The use of settings outside a futuristic North America caught my attention, as did the French and Spanish, two languages I speak and study, used in the mysterious refrain of “Are you a frelk?” The protagonists’ globe trotting has a child-like energy to it that becomes more disturbing as we figure out what a frelk really is, and what separates the spacers from unmodified humans. This story is a great example of voice and pace and theme all entwining. Sometimes that breathless voice and high-octane pace is something I try to mimic in my own writing.

Second, for the central element, how advances in technology affect individuals and society in unexpected ways. I’m sure there are any number of stories where humans are genetically modified to work in space, but this one isn’t concerned with space. It’s concerned with an elaborate subculture that springs up on Earth to eroticize and exoticize the spacers, who have had their sex organs removed and are permanently prepubescent despite their age. One of these admirers tries to compare her fetish to necrophilia, as if what she desires is a total lack of response, but another parallel is far more obvious, especially with the childish behavior of the spacers themselves so emphasized. This story delves deep into sexuality and societal exclusion instead of doing something safe, like following a spacer trying to fix a faulty satellite in orbit. Taking risks is something I’m trying to do in my own writing, as well.

Third, for the emotional core of the story. Whirlwind action, exotic settings, lexical mysteries—these are all great. A fascinating central idea that crosses into risky territory—even better. But the hook that sinks in and makes people return to a story, I think, is almost always emotional connection to a character and their situation. The protagonist claims to be happy with the life of a spacer, living among the stars and coming down wherever on Earth they choose to drink and carouse. But there’s a second refrain throughout the story: “Don’t you think you should leave?” that makes it clear how much the spacers have sacrificed. They are admired, but not welcomed. Thanked for their service, but not accepted back into society. And while the protagonist’s interactions with frelk admirers seem purely pragmatic and tinged with disdain, it turns out to be masking a very deep loneliness. A frelk only loves a spacer because a spacer can’t love back, and that’s not love at all. That kind of loneliness resonated with me, and that’s why I keep coming back.

Read Rich Larson’s stories “Going Endo”, “Brute”, and “Maria and the Pilgrim” all in Apex Magazine.

Check out the Apex Magazine subscription drive running through November 13th.


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