Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Alien's Corruption

By Sara Crow

Slightly Behind and to the Left by Claire Light

Claire Light, from her bio at the 
Aqueduct Press website

Slightly behind and to the Left is a collection of short fiction and “drabbles,” as Light calls them—one-paragraph to half-page installments of highly conceptual flash fiction. The book is from Aqueduct Press’s series, Conversation Pieces, which examines feminism with a focus on feminist science fiction.

Light’s prose throughout this book is infused with an aura of menace and loss. She isn’t afraid to throw her characters into torturous scenarios like a mad scientist trying to see what sort of atrocity will emerge from the next diabolical experiment. She illustrates the feminist struggle for equality as a common conflict across not only gender lines, but across alien worlds as well, creating characters that struggle for much more than survival—they struggle to remain human when endowed with responsibilities of power that give them the opportunity to become monstrous.

The universes Light weaves teem with abominations, mostly personified in her protagonists. “Vacation,” her first short story in the set, follows a woman who awakens one day to a world where all the men have suddenly disappeared, leaving only boys behind. The heinous result is amplified by the fact that the motivation of the characters is only obtusely referenced. Do the women take the steps they do out of a fear response to the events? A need to procreate? Or do they act the way they do out of a primal lust only?

The final story in the collection, “Abducted by Aliens!,” chronicles the journey of the character in the prior story, “Pinball Effect,” from the perspective of his little sister, relaying her brother’s stories years after the events took place. Clues in the text and the story of the Afterward reveal, however, that the events which took place were not quite as her brother recalled—his memories operated as a coping response to a different type of alien monstrosity.

One thread connects many of the protagonists in Light’s collection—each character faces a point at which they have the opportunity to fall from their humanity. Each character faces the opportunity to treat another with the contempt that victimizes the alien across the table into a category beneath the respect worthy of a fellow sentient creature. When the character gets to the point that she or he has the option to treat the Other (any marginalized sentient being, traditionally women and minorities in particular) as an object, how does she or he respond? What does she do? What choices does she make?

The core of science fiction throws a character into a world of extreme trauma and expects that character to adapt. Science fiction, at its best, reveals the truth of humanity in the midst of the tangled obscurity of aliens and technology. Light’s prose, in its aching lilt, brings the truth of the feminist conundrum to the forefront—the fight for women’s rights is a fight for the core of our humanity. Because to deny a fellow creature as somehow sub-human is to make oneself less than human as well.

You can find Claire's work at or at Aqueduct Press, one of my new favorite publishers. More of her writing can also be found at Claire's blog.

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