Sunday, September 9, 2018

Birthday Girl, by Rachel Swirsky

Not Rated No Speculative Element

(Mainstream) Bella attends her niece’s seventh birthday party—the first time she’s been allowed in her sister’s house in a full year. (2,848 words; Time: 09m)

"," by (edited by Dominik Parisien), appeared in issue 24, published on .

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

Review: 2018.510 (A Word for Authors)

It's a fine little story, but it isn't science fiction, fantasy, or horror.

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6 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. The speculative element is that the story is set in a future when social and clinical attitudes toward mental illness have changed.

    1. What did you see in the text that made you think it was set in the future? That it couldn't happen today?

    2. Mental illness no longer being thought of as illness, and "sick" being a word that people used to use for others who were bipolar or had Tourette's. It seemed to me that, in the story's setting, what we now call mental illness is thought of as another way of being neuroatypical, similar to the Asperger's spectrum.

    3. That didn't strike me as beyond the range of opinion you could find today. I agree it would be a change if that opinion were universal, but I'm not sure that's what it's really saying.

      Look at this exchange:

      It was when you got sick.

      I’m not sick. I have different challenges.

      Right. They used to call it sick when I was growing up.

      . . . Your challenges are bipolar and Tourette’s, too?

      I didn't see any reason that conversation couldn't be present-day. It didn't imply to me that everyone had changed terminology. Or do you think these are terms that no one in the world would use today? (I'll admit to not being up on current mental illness terminology.)

    4. I'd argue that "they used to call it sick when I was growing up" and, later in the story, "they used to call it being sick" are what takes the story out of the present. These lines suggest that "sick" is an obsolete term and that the prevailing opinion, rather than only the opinion of some people, is that bipolar disorder and Tourette's are not illnesses. I don't think many people today would say "we used to call bipolar people sick" - it's far more common today to argue that bipolar people deserve compassion precisely because they are ill.

      Does this prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the story isn't set in the present? Maybe not - there are activists today who argue for the position taken in the story. OTOH, the characters in the story, with the possible exception of Bella, don't present as advocates, and I don't see their conversation as one that an average family (or even an average family with a member who has a mental disorder) would have today.

      Also, I personally don't require the speculative element of a story to be present beyond a reasonable doubt, and I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to stories that are ambiguously set in the future, but that's just One Man's Opinion.

    5. I started off trying to be stricter about it, requiring that the speculative element actually be integral to the plot, but that had me rejecting way too many stories. Now I'll generally err on the side of inclusion. In this case, though, it's just too small a thing for me.