Monday, November 26, 2007

Willis at large, part 3

kw: book reviews, science fiction, stories, anthologies

The fourth and fifth sections of The Winds of Marble Arch and other stories by Connie Willis are titled "Parking Fines and Other Violations" and "Royalty", and contain three stories each:
  • Ado – Here the "violations" in question are imposed by every possible special interest group imaginable, making it necessary to edit any piece of literature before presenting it to a college class. In the case of Shakespeare, the only play with anything left is Hamlet, and there is a bit more remaining than the word ado, but not much. I call the story's style "hilarious tragedy".
  • All My Darling Daughters – Ms Willis had a very strong message to get across, and found it necessary to use a horrifically corrupt background against which to make her case. With only slight exaggeration, a college stuck in an orbiting habitat is filled with kids who consider it normal to pursue a fresh orgasm about every twenty minutes, whenever they aren't in class or asleep. A new girl, seemingly innocent, reveals by far the most tragic background when she sends home a toothless, ferretlike animal bred as a male-fetish sex machine to her father, telling the protagonist she still has younger sisters, saying, "You don't really know what sin is."
  • In the Late Cretaceous – Another tragicomedy, about budget cutting on another campus. The portrayal of student attitudes, faculty bemusedness, and administrative doubletalk are searingly accurate.
  • The Curse of Kings – Another puzzler, as far as I am concerned. Which aliens had the planet first? Archaeological discoveries bring the question home, and the rubber really hits the road, when most of the scientists die of a very weird and horrifying virus...or poison.
  • Even the Queen – A hilarious tale based on the idea that one day a medicine to safely eliminate menstruation will be discovered. Several strong women talk about their experiences "before" in the presence of a young woman who is committed to a "natural" lifestyle. This must be the author's most popular story. I've read it several times in different places. A hoot.
  • Inn – If I read the subtext aright, Ms Willis's sympathies lie strongly with the liberal, established churches. On this background, we are asked to consider how Mary and Joseph might fare today, knocking on the church's door late on a snowy evening.
There remain nine stories in three sections. I find myself amazed already at the breadth of the author's reach. A word of caution concerning "Darling Daughters": there is an exception to every rule, and this is mine. Normally I don't read a story like this one. Having read it once, many years ago, when my standards were different from today, I remembered the point, and upon rereading I have to agree that its portrait of ugliness and depravity is the appropriate setting for its message.

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