Sunday, February 15, 2009

Review - "San Diego Lightfoot Sue", "A Crowd of Shadows", and "The Screwfly Solution"

With this I've reached a minor complication with going through all of the Nebula winners and really every year from around 1975 to 1982 seems to have some monkey wrench to throw at me. This time and next time it's overlap with the Hugo winning works. In 1975, '76, and '77 two out of the three winners of the Nebulas for short fiction also won the Hugo. So this week it's three years for the price of one.

"San Diego Lightfoot Sue"
by Tom Reamy
1975 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

In the early sixties a naive teenager arrives in Los Angelas where he immediately falls in with homosexuals and prostitutes. His innocence drops away as he becomes aware of who they are and falls in love with a middle-aged prostitute.

Reamy paints an interesting picture of an innocent discovering that there are people who do not conform with what society thinks of sexuality. Ironically for something so sexually progressive for 1975 it does feel fairly restrained by 2009 standards and I think that harms the story. Since the intent was clearly to bring those outsiders forward the fact that it is no longer shocking removes the emotional impact. On top of that Reamy dances around the sexual themes in a way that an author in 2009 would be more direct with. It's still a decent story and I enjoyed reading it but the context has changed dramatically.

"A Crowd of Shadows"
by Charles L. Grant
1976 Nebula Winner for Best Short Story

In a small town an android teenager with two human parents shows up and have to deal with some human prejudices. Then the people who said cruel things start being murdered in gruesome ways. The suspect is the android but they cannot act on their own to kill someone. That doesn't stop the tensions and resentment from building in the town.

The story itself is an anti-prejudice screed along the lines of a thousand other SF short stories but Grant does a descent job with keeping things tight. As a result it doesn't overstay its welcome. You won't find anything new in "A Crowd of Shadows" (even for 1976) and I can't call it brilliant. Still it has an interesting narrative voice that helps it be a bit more than the sum of its parts.

"The Screwfly Solution"
by Raccoona Sheldon (a.k.a. James Tiptree, Jr.)
1977 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

Speaking of interesting narrative voices, I suspect that's all Tiptree could do. This time something is making all of the men in the world become homocidally violent toward women and justifying it to themselves. The story is told in fragments between a husband and wife that flicker between letters, passed along articles, scientific reports, diary entries, and even a couple of sections of straight prose.

The concept itself is solid enough and Tiptree (I'm going to keep using that name since it's the author's most common penname) builds an image of a world gone mad where only half the population can recognize the problem. The real hook in the story is the ending where there is a twist that will stick with the reader. The narrative structure is carried surprisingly well by the disjointed format. I thought the overall effect was suburb and strongly recommend the story.