Saturday, September 27, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Fade to White, by Catherynne M. Valente

I read "Fade to White" when it was nominated for a Hugo last year, and it stuck with me all that night and through the next week. It was just one of those sticky kinds of stories. It had so much to say, and it did it in such a unique (to me) way.

It's a sort of alternate history of the post-WWII era. Something went entirely wrong with the war, and California was completely obliterated, in what sounds like some kind of nuclear bomb or disaster. It left most American men completely sterile, and many American women as well. In a sort of reversal of The Handmaid's Tale, the few men who are still potent become Husbands who have four or more wives. The story is told in three ways: first, there's advertising copy with the editors changes included. It's upbeat government-funded advertising that's meant to reassure Americans that as little as possible has changed. The second aspect of the story is in the point of view of Sylvie, a 15-year-old half-Japanese girl who is about to go to her Presentation, the ceremony where she submits to dozens of tests and finds out whether she's fertile and what careers she's eligible for. The third aspect of the story is told by Martin, a 15-year-old boy who daydreams about nothing but becoming a Father and is preparing for his Announcement, the corresponding ceremony and test for boys. These three views alternate, telling a tale that is extremely chilling, in part because of its believability.

I pretty much adore everything Catherynne Valente has ever written. She's amazing with words, writing things like, "she could cut glass with the diamond of her mind," and she always has a fascinating and beautiful story to tell, or a new observation to make about the world.

I would recommend that pretty much everyone click on that link above and go check out this story. It was published in Clarkesworld Magazine, and it's available for free online. It was nominated for a Nebula and a Hugo, and it was a Sidewise Award finalist. I would especially recommend it to alternate-history fans and people interested in the 40s, WWII, and the changes the war made by bringing women into the workplace.

Rating: 5 stars

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