Visions of Paradise

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Gorgon in the Cupboard

In some ways, my personal feelings to some of the different areas of the f&sf genre can be summarized by my reaction to two 2004 novellas, “The Concrete Jungle,” by Charles Stross, and “The Gorgon in the Cupboard,” by Patricia McKillip. The former story was a fast-paced thriller involving crime, action, lots of techno-babble, and mostly unlikeable people barking at one another constantly. I really tried to read it–after all, it is the recent Hugo-winner–but I just have no interest in either technology or thrillers. The latter story is much gentler and slower-paced, without any crime or threats to anybody’s life. It intertwines two stories. One is about a struggling artist who has never “broken through,” partly because the painting which he felt would be his masterwork was never finished when its subject mysteriously ran away several years ago. The other story is about that former subject who is now a desperate runaway, alone and poor after her return to the city following the death of her family. One glorious scene of her and her fellow vagrants gathered beneath a butcher’s awning during a rainstorm was worth the entire story.

“Gorgon” was not a perfect story. I loved Jo, the poverty-stricken subject more than Harry, who often seemed more dilettante than true artist. And the story’s fantasy element, the “gorgon in the cupboard,” occasionally seemed more a distraction than a focal point of the story. But overall, this story contained people I was able to relate to, and feel empathy for, rather than Stross’ characters who seemed little more than spear-carriers for thrills and spills. Admittedly, this is largely my personal bias, but presumably I am not the only sf fan who prefers the gentler, thought-provoking corner of f&sf to the faster-paced “thrill a minute” corner of the field.