Non-Zero Probabilities by N K Jemsin
Sam Goldwyn ponders the two types of stories.
I think it’s Sam Goldwyn who said “There’s only two stories, fucking and fighting.” SF and fantasy tends to focus on the latter, with the former usually only present in its grosser forms, rather than in the form Goldwyn was - referring to (love stories, of course - what sort of movies do you think he made?) Both today’s stories are love stories in their own way.
Bridesicle by Wil McIntosh appeared in the January 2009 issueof Asimovs SF, and is available online as a free pdf. It was on the Hugo short list last year, so I guess that’s why it was more widely distributed, to get it into the hands of voters. Still, whatever the reason it’s lucky for us as this is a great story.
McIntosh takes a pretty straightforward sci fi idea and putsa brilliantly conceived human twist on it. As well as being a believable outcome of the technical ideas, this story is also a deliciously arch commentary on men and women. McIntosh gets right to the icky heart of a certain kind of the idea of a third world mail order bride, brilliantly portraying the power relationships that these kinds of arrangements are inevitably built on.
McIntosh is smart enough, though, to pull the idea through a few permutations and takes us somewhere that’s surprising and uplifting, rather than just lay the concepts out and move on. I think it’s this final movement that’s so hard to find in a story - you have the idea, you work it up and find a place where you are satisfied with it, but that’s not the end. There’s another movement yet to go, another wrinkle that moves things forwards rather than just leaves it lying there. That’s what McIntosh does so brilliantly here.
Next up is a story from Clarkesworld, a publication we’ve featured here before, Non-Zero Probabilities by N K Jemsin. It’s another one from 2009 - one of the things about Dame Internet means we don’t have to stick with the here and now, everything lingers.
The story is set in a New York where the laws of probability have gone awry - suddenly, statistical outliers and one-in-a-million shots are common-place, and lucky charms seem to work. People have had to start re-arranging their lives around them - the story opens with the central character, Adele, donning a series of good luck totems, from a St Christopher medal to a pair of, um, lucky underpants.
Jensim has a bit of fun with the idea, before settling down to the basic conundrum - Adele naturally wants to see things go back to normal, but when the opportunity arrives, well... This is a neat little story, that gives this idea only the lightest work-out. In the margins there’s a story about love and hope that will leave you with a smile on your face.