Date read: 11.06.09
Read From: Asimov’s, July 2008
This post originally segued into an extremely long-winded discussion of what makes readers perceive fiction as “genre” versus “non-genre,” but two hours and >1100 words later, I got uncomfortable with some/all of what I had written. So, it’s been hacked back and all that’s left is a thematic discussion/analysis of Kij Johnson’s “26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss,” which, you might have noticed, Kakaner also just reviewed. (Later edit: But here’s the most expeditious compression of what I had been meaning to say about genre: if you like speculative fiction that makes a point of explicating mechanism – how the AI or the FTL drive or the summoning spell works – you’ll probably be disappointed by this story. It’s more of an absurdist fable.)
To make a mildly spoilery summary, the grief-embittered, formerly rootless heroine, Aimee, comes into possession of a strange miracle: a troupe of performing monkeys who, without any visible explanation, can disappear and reappear at will. She wonders endlessly at the miracle, and where it brings her to in life, but she never really does find out how it works.
The monkeys know, obviously, and one even agrees to show her the trick firsthand – but she still can’t see what the trick is. Despite the monkeys’ transparency (PUN) – here’s what we do, here’s us doing it, nothing hidden, just a bunch of monkeys in a bathtub – there’s a veil she can’t penetrate, something she can’t see beyond, can’t participate in. There’s just no way for her to “get it,” to seize the heart of the mystery, no matter how close she is to it and how clearly it’s laid out for her. It’s deliciously slippery and absurd, a mystery that’s all the more impenetrable for its almost banal apparent obviousness.
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