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New Beginnings

First of all, authors of the fantastic have some sort of clinical aversion to exclamation points. The Millhauser stories, in particular, are fantastic in that they are told in a rather cut-and-dry way; the dresses covered everything, the tower touched heaven, the paintings were moving. An element of the fantastic is that it tries to call itself something else. Sometimes it even tries to be mundane. I think the argument can be made either way as to whether or not it is useful to lessen the impact of a story by limiting aides like exclamation points. Millhauser’s tone is so matter-of-fact that his stories are actually quite believable. When one steps out of the world that he’s created and gazes again at the real world, the contrast underlines the fantastic. This isn’t relevant to a particular story; it’s just something that I noticed.

Johnson’s final story, “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change”, was a heartbreaker. I appreciated her effort to put a happy ending in at the end for the few dogs that made it into the van and survived, but it wasn’t enough.

The entire idea is fascinating. I started thinking about what my dog would say if he could talk, and that thought alone made me sad. I make fun of him a lot, which isn’t very nice. He isn’t a very nice dog, though. After some serious thought, I do think that my family would keep Buddy if he started talking, because we already don’t like him. There wouldn’t be any hurt feelings if he called us fat, or criticized how we scratched ourselves, or whatever a dog would comment on. That ship sailed long ago.

The heartbreak would come in relationships like the one when Linna tries to give a woman back her dog back and she refused ever having one.

“(We like our slaves mute. We like to imagine they love us and they do. But they are also with us because freedom and security war in each of us, and sometimes security wins out. They love us. But.)” pg 280

There are so many different points packed into that excerpt. First, our dogs are our slaves. They do as we say, when we say, or they are punished. It doesn’t really hurt to think of them that way, either, because we are people and they are dogs. But. Suddenly, though, dog can talk. We’re people and, in a weird way, so are they. But they’re still also dogs, who sleep in cages and don’t have opposable thumbs. Suddenly, the dog situation becomes uncomfortably close to the abused-elderly-in-a-nursing-home situation. The dogs, like our old people, have gone from someone that we wanted to live with because they increased our quality of life to someone who requires discretion and extra time and care that, honestly, you probably don’t have. Unlike old people, though, we don’t have to bother putting them in a home to forget about them. Dogs can go right out on the streets, where they were before we opened our homes and let them in.

The other part of the quote, about security winning out, took me right back to the alien rape story. A blog post from last week never found its way to where it was meant to before Thursday, I’d like to talk about it now all the same.


I’ve been turning “Spar” around in my head all weekend. It’s defiantly an allegory for abusive relationships, and a well done one at that.

First, it doesn’t come right out and say what it is. A life is being lived, albeit a sad and confusing one. The story isn’t about a woman who is in an abusive relationship. The story is about a woman who is grieving her dead husband and aboard some alien spaceship and, somehow, this is happening. Abuse hides itself away in other things and eats away, bit by bit, until one day it is all that there is. “Spar” does a nice job of showing that, and of showing the person who still exists outside of the confines of the current situation.

Second, she tries to qualify it into something that she can understand.

“She pretends that this is rape. Rape at least she could understand. Rape is an interaction. It requires intention. It would imply that is hates or fears or wants. Rape would mean she is more than a glass of wine it fills” (203).

Her desire to call it rape, to stick on that label, speaks to some feeling of guilt on her part. I shouldn’t have done this, it’s my fault that I’m in this position. I haven’t been in this position and I won’t try to give some bullshit explanation as to why battered individuals have a tendency to feel this way, but they do. It happens.

Third, right before she climbed out of the tank, or the pod, or whatever you want to call it, she almost doesn’t.

“She is warm here, or at any rate not cold…” (205).

What she has, as bad as it is, isn’t death. It’s not warm, but it’s not cold either. This is what I was referencing about, about security almost winning out. But. The outside world could be much worse. It is bravery of the most basic kind that she chooses to crawl out, in search of a world that could be worse but might be much better.

Johnson has done an amazing job in these two stories of applying a common theme to a fantastic plot and making a story that isn’t boring as it tells the same message again. Humans have the capacity for bravery and kindness, but there is so much potential for darkness as well. These aren’t happy endings, but they’re new beginnings. That’s enough.

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