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“Ponies”, by Kij Johnson

March 20, 2013 Leave a comment

“Ponies” is a 2010 fantasy short story by Kij Johnson.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2011.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Ponies” is the story of a party held by some popular girls, the less popular girl who is invited, and the damage they cause to their ponies, who seem to be created, yet intelligent, creatures

Why should you read it?

I’m not sure you should.  You’ve heard me wax rhapsodic about Kij Johnson’s work before–I adore “The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change” and “26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss”.  However, this story is about pain that’s inflicted on innocent friends–the ponies.  While I understand the nomination, and I appreciate the craftsmanship, I’ve now read “Ponies” three times and I still don’t like it at all.  It reminds me of watching one ten-year-old beat up another, and wishing I could intervene.

I’m  not completely against innocents being harmed in fiction.  I read horror; I live in the world.  I can take this type of plot.  What I object to, I think, is the fact that the ponies are hurt. . . as a result of peer pressure.  Because the girls want to either maintain their status, or gain new status.  This makes me uncomfortable, intensely.

It’s quite possible that that’s the point.  If so, it’s brilliant.  I still don’t think it’s any fun.  I started this blog to recommend stories that I enjoyed, and I knew when I turned the corner to reading and posting about Hugo nominated stories, I might find some stuff I didn’t like. I’m not sure I expected it to come from an author whose skill I admire so much and whose work I have so enjoyed.

New rating: Well done, no fun.

Where to find “Ponies”

It’s available online on Tor.com.  It doesn’t appear to have been collected yet, but there is also a podcast on Tor.com.

 

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March Metapost

March 14, 2013 Leave a comment

I noticed that I was off pace, and wasn’t going to hit a hundred this year.  So I’ve made a change: I’m working only on the short story nominees and winners for the Hugo.  And oh dear, this is a delight.  I’m downloading them, I’m buying a few books, and the library is sending me short story collections that I’ll only read one of.  But I’m attempting to either read a story or write a review every day for this project.  That should get me to a hundred in the remaining days….  I hope.

Categories: Meta

“Uncommon Sense”, by Hal Clement

March 14, 2013 Leave a comment

“Uncommon Sense” is a 1945 science fiction short story by Hal Clement.  It won the Retro Hugo for Best Short Story of 1946.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Uncommon Sense” is the story of an amateur exobiologist whose ship is taken from him by his two assistants upon landing on a planet circling Deneb, a very bright star.  He uses his wits and his knowledge of exobiology to recapture his ship from the mutineers.

Why should you read it?

Now, see, this is the stuff.  The writing, by today’s standards, is absolutely terrible.  For example, there’s a moment when an omniscient narrator jumps into the middle of the story and tells you how stupid the main character is for not seeing the revelation sooner.

The core idea, oh, my god, it’s jaw-dropping still, over sixty years later.  While outside his captured ship, he encounters native life, all of whom have very strange eyes.  But Deneb is so bright that the differential between “daylight” and “shadow” is so great that he can’t figure out how these eyes can work.  And as he waits in his space suit for the mutineers to make a mistake and take his ship back, he realizes… they’re not eyes.  In microgravity and no atmosphere, a particle that is excited off the surface of an object travels in a straight line.  So the sensory organs?  They’re not eyes.  They’re noses, set up like pinhole cameras.  These creates “see” by smelling the things that are in front of them, and can make an image of what’s in front of them this way.

That’s all well and good. . . but how is he going to use these amazing facts to get his ship back?

Where to find “Uncommon Sense”

This story was re-published in 2000 in The Essential Hal Clement, Volume 2: Music of Many Spheres, which is currently available from the King County Library System.