"Most of us weren’t ready for it. Some of us still aren’t."
November 15, 2021 3:57 AM   Subscribe

Two science fiction stories in which mysteries about changes in human behavior and capability feel uncanny. "Sidewalks" by Maureen McHugh: "She offers me the pen and says something in a language that sounds liquid, like it’s been poured through a straw." "Clouds" by Brian Francis Slattery: "Roy was one of the people who couldn’t get the idea of an invasion out of his head. Everything the aliens did seemed to him to have an ulterior motive. When they did nothing, they were just biding their time, making us complacent."
posted by brainwane (13 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Dear brainwane,

I couldn't possibly put to words how much I love your short story posts. This has been a particularly difficult time for me these days and these posts are the wind in my wings.

Thank you.

With warmest regards,
posted by nathanfhtagn at 6:33 AM on November 15, 2021 [20 favorites]

These were both very good —thanks!
posted by librosegretti at 7:38 AM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yeah, on the thanks, me too. These are terrific.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:39 AM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Holy carp, that Maureen McHugh story blew me away.

Thank you, Brainwane.
posted by Archer25 at 8:18 AM on November 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm so glad to share these with folks. nathanfhtagn, I hope your difficulties ease, and until they do, I'm hoping these stories continue to offer fun, solace, escape, beauty, wonder, mirrors, camaraderie, or at least a few minutes of distraction. I've been fairly consistent about tagging them "shortstory" in case you want to dig into some archives as well -- and aniola put together an ebook last year to help folks navigate the recommendations I made in a similar series last year.

Archer25: That Maureen McHugh story is so neat, isn't it?!?! I've read several McHugh stories and I absolutely adore her novel China Mountain Zhang which is one of my favorite science fiction novels -- I reread it probably every few years. I love how McHugh really respects the solidity and activity of work, of the labors of our lives -- parenting, housekeeping, jobs, etc. -- and how every single person in the world is making decisions that seem ok to them, moment-by-moment, including the people who are neither particularly helping us nor getting in our way. Sometimes her incisive point of view and sort of ruthless clarity can get very dark -- "The Cost To Be Wise" is a short story that really sticks with me in that way -- but her emotional honesty and the psychological and logistical verismilitude of her stories means that all the happy endings are really EARNED in a way that strikes home for me.
posted by brainwane at 8:42 AM on November 15, 2021 [6 favorites]

I absolutely LOVE Maureen McHugh’s work and always hope to come across something new by her. So happy I came across this.
posted by asimplemouse at 2:58 PM on November 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

After all the praise heaped on Maureen McHugh here, I must get to her "Sidewalks."

I had time to only read one of these, and the excerpt from Slattery's "Clouds" made me pick it.

My intuition didn't disappoint. It's a great story and reconfirms my belief that if "they" ever show up, we're in for a pleasant, mind-bending, earth-changing surprise.

OK, off to "Sidewalks."

Great post, brainwane; thanks.
posted by lometogo at 7:15 PM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Both beautiful. Thank you.
posted by inexorably_forward at 1:17 AM on November 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Excellent, thank you. Clouds was great.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:36 AM on November 16, 2021

I also hate when people call me Dr. Gupta. I’m a Ph.D., not a medical doctor.
...said no Ph.D. ever. If you suffer through a research studentship, pass quals and defend your thesis, "Dr" is earned. I don't believe this character would say exactly this, maybe more like "I hate having to correct people who think I'm a medic."

It's a tiny distracting blip in a solid story -- among a bunch of solid stories. Hige thanks for this one and the rest of them, brainwane.
posted by k3ninho at 1:57 PM on November 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Something I found interesting was the last bit where Dr. Gupta seems to think that the going back in time end the "current world." My initial take was more like that travelling through time necessarily puts you in a different timeline and you can't get back to yours - not that you literally destroyed your initial-future, but that it's inaccessible to you.

From the perspective of the time travelers it doesn't matter - if you can't reach a timeline then it's existence is... an academic matter. But there's a certain extra sadness to thinking that not only can you not reach it, but maybe everyone in it never existed now.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:30 PM on November 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

The benefit of having never existed is there's not much room for regrets.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:05 PM on November 16, 2021

My husband (physics PhD) definitely feels uncomfortable when people call him Dr. [Last name]. It's a real thing! He cheerfully corrects people that he's not a real doctor. He is related to many MDs and I think feels like he's being pretentious letting it slide.

I just devoured China Mountain Zhang over the past couple days thanks to the rec in this thread. Lovely book, thank you so much for the post and conversation, all!
posted by potrzebie at 7:00 PM on November 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

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