Sunday, July 5, 2009

Review - "Louise's Ghost" and "The Cure for Everything"

The Nebulas went back to agreeing partially with the Hugo winner list this year with Jack Williamson's "The Ultimate Earth" winning the novella category. Since these 2001 awards the only time where one story has not also won a Hugo was in 2004.

Also the next update won't be until Wednesday at the earliest. I've had some hardware failures and while I can finish the paragraph and half I have left here I can't rely on having access until parts arrive.

"Louise's Ghost"
by Kelly Link
2001 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

The first thing that any reader is going to notice about this story and the thing that will stick in your mind is that it is about two friends who are named Louise. Link simply calls them both "Louise" in the story with no other identifies so it's filled with sentences like "Louise thanks Louise," and the reader has to try to work out the context. It's such a blatant bit of gimmicky writing that it got on my nerves. I know exactly what Link was attempting to do; she wanted to make the characterization distinctive and let the reader divide them mentally. What it actually did is make me reread passages wondering where she was trying to trick me into thinking of the wrong Louise. Thankfully she never does that but she never does anything else with the fact that they have the same name.

Louise 1 who is the protagonist often meets with her friend Louise 2. Louise 1 has a problem since her new house has a ghost. It's not a threatening ghost; just a naked man who appears in inconvenient places. Louise 2 has a solution to get rid of the ghost; she'll invite over all the cellists that she has had sex with (it's a lot of them) and one of them may be able to lure the ghost into an instrument and take it away.

The real point of the story isn't that plot (there isn't a lot more to it than what I put there) it's in the relationship between the two Louises. Link constantly plays up the differences between them because that's the only reason she has for giving both characters the same name. So Louise 1 has affairs with married men to avoid relationships while Louise 2 uses lovers and discards them. Louise 2 is drawn to music and Louise 1 is tone deaf. Louise 1 can't stand children and Louise 2 has indulged her daughter to a point beyond reason. And on and on.

This is a story that works hard to be metaphorical. It works so hard at it that it draws attention to the fact that it's working hard to be metaphorical. Consequently I had the same reaction I seem to have to every Kelly Link story: she gets so much right but she tries too hard and it ruins the whole thing.

"The Cure for Everything"
by Severna Park
2001 Nebula Winner for Best Short Story

An albino woman who is involved in relocating indigenous people in the Amazon rain forest finds a man moving a truck of natives without the propper authorization. The man doing this is forced to tell her that he works for a biomedical corporation that is relocating this tribe that is about to be flooded out by a new dam because their genetic code has the potential to cure nearly anything. With the promise of being able to have children with no risk of fatal traits coming forward she allows him to continue on his way. She winds up having second thoughts about this exploitation and follows in the hope of freeing them.

I'll give Park full credit for taking what is a hoary old SF cliche and spinning it into a new direction. The problem for me, though, was that the new direction wasn't an interesting one. I'm avoiding spoiling the story too much; it's just that when she departs from the usual trails Park doesn't do much with the concepts. And I found the very end of the story particularly awkward as a completely new story element is introduced in the last sentence with no foreshadowing or development; it's the conclusion to a story that wasn't in "The Cure for Everything".

I couldn't care about what happened to anyone in this story. Only the protagonist is developed beyond the level of plot device and most of her character development is heavy-handed. Despite a clever idea in the plotting there just isn't enough to "The Cure for Everything" to make it worth reading.