Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Worldless, by Indrapramit Das

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(Offworld SF) The Dunyshar are stranded on an outpost, but NuTay dreams of going home to Earth. (5,130 words; Time: 17m)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Not Recommended
Recommended By: GDozois:5

"," by (edited by John Joseph Adams), appeared in issue 82, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: There seems to be an imaginative backstory behind all of this. As for the plot, NuTay does manage to get off the planet and bring their child along with them.

Con: The author’s attempt to make the language sound futuristic simply results in something that’s painful to read. Using odd spellings like “refuji,” and mixing in slang we don’t know all combine together to make the story needlessly hard to read.

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7 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. You seem to have misunderstood the story. It was extremely clear NuTay is the parent of Satlyt, not the other way around, and they escape their planet at the end with the help of a person who is romantically interested in Satlyt.

    I'm also curious about what evidence there is that "both characters are obviously female." I didn't find that to be the case at all, and it makes sense that--especially with advances in reproductive technology--future societies would be less concerned with enforcing gender roles in general. The use of gender neutral pronouns makes sense if you are writing about a society with little use for gender. I reread the story to check, and I couldn't find any specific textual evidence of the gender you want to apply to NuTay and Satlyt at all. NuTay seems nurturing, but that's not clear evidence of being female. Satlyt is described as looking like their absent parent, which if anything suggests that they are *not* the same sex as NuTay. And while Satlyt speaks of using protection for sex to reassure NuTay, it's not obvious whether the protection is for contraceptive purposes or for disease prevention and the type of protection isn't specified in a way that makes it obvious what anatomy Satlyt has.

    I can see why the odd spellings may be irritating to some readers, but I thought they worked well to portray a society in which there has been significant linguistic drift, where the characters speak a sort of pidgin or patois, and where it implies that the characters may not be literate and definitely don't have formal education.

  2. Thanks for the correction. Sometimes when I really dislike a story, I'm not as careful as I should be with the writeups. I've edited it a bit just now.

    A better way to phrase it would have been that the two characters came across to me very much as mother and daughter. I've read agendered stories that made me believe the genderless-future, but this one didn't do it for me.

    Whenever an author plays with language, he/she takes a risk that readers won't adjust to it, and that it'll end up knocking them out of the story over and over. That's definitely what happened to me here. Since I have a policy of finishing any story I review, I was really hating it by the end. (It's like trying to read while a woodpecker keeps pecking you on the head.)

    I had a similar problem with "Ancillary Justice," but the story was strong enough to make up for it, and I still voted for it for the Hugo. I've loved some of Das's other work, but this one wasn't strong enough to win me over.

    Thanks again for the correction, and especially thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful, detailed comment.

    1. Thanks for the update! This is one of the reasons I love RocketStackRank. It's interesting to see how different stories hit different people. I think your tastes and mine are often very different. :)

      Was glad to see you loved "And Then There Were (N-One)" almost as much as I did, though. Definitely an early favorite for Best Novella next year, imo.

    2. I did a comparion of different short SFF reviewers (never published it) and found that no two of them agreed over 40% of the time. So if we agree even one time in three, that's probably par for the course.

      It's why it's important to report on what different reviewers said about different stories. One person just can't represent everyone.

      And, yeah, the N-One story was great!

  3. That's funny that you thought NuTay and Satlyt were female. I felt like they were both male and the absent parent was female. I don't mind the singular they pronoun, and I didn't find the unfamiliar words that hard to suss out. I was a little bothered by the lack of punctuation for dialogue. But I thought the style reflected the fact that these people have no formal education. In the case of 'refuji,' I thought it showed that Satlyt had only heard the word from the wayfarer and wasn't pronouncing it quite right.

    1. It's definitely clear that different people have different levels of tolerance for non-standard language in stories. This is probably why writing classes warn beginning writers not to try to write dialect--just hint at it.

      Some writers really can make it work, but I felt that in this story it seriously detracted.