“My Father’s Singularity” by Brenda Cooper

October 31, 2010 at 12:43 am | Posted in Short Stories | 1 Comment
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This week’s short story club story is “My Father’s Singularity” by Brenda Cooper published in Clarkesworld. This is a very short story (about 2700 words) and to return to something I think I mentioned in an earlier review, at that length a story is best served by picking one thing to communicate, getting that across, and then getting out. “My Father’s Singularity” actually manages to meander, which, while not inappropriate for a story that covers about 45 years or so, means it never really gets around to making a strong point. It gestures towards being a story about the way life moves faster and faster, dallies in a very incomplete consideration of medical ethics, and finally gives its narrator about sixty words to cope with the loss of his father.

Two major elements of the story, namely its narrator Paul and the future he’s moving into, are left mostly to the reader’s imagination. Paul comes off as a fairly cold fish with apparently no emotional attachments except a weak sense of filial duty. We are encouraged to think that Paul, after initial difficulties, has completely left his rural past behind and become wholly modern, but the world around him is given such scanty detail that the reader is left to guess what, if anything, that might imply. His father, theoretically the subject of the story, is given even less time. We learn he likes science fiction books, dogs, farming, and that’s about it. You’d think a man who read science fiction would have some sort of opinion about gene therapy or whatever the magic medicine of Paul’s future is, but the reader isn’t told anything that would clue us in to what he thought. Paul and Mona probably knew, but it doesn’t occur to either of them to mention his preferences when discussing his treatment.

Given how unimpressed I was with Paul, it’s not surprising that I didn’t find the conclusion of the story very moving. Paul, who only a moment ago was saying nothing bad ever happened to him, spends about three sentences coping with the fact his father (a man he was so close to he couldn’t bear to spend more than a day with him) can’t recognize him now. Then the story ends on a vaguely distasteful note by suggesting that getting Alzheimer’s is a singularity in the opposite direction from the SF kind. Perhaps it’s one last bit of characterization: Paul is so self-centered that he feels someone who no longer recognizes him has become something less than human.

One final note: in my (very limited) experience if there are comments on a story on the site where it was published, they tend to be universally effusive. There’s a selection effect there so that’s fine. So it’s interesting to note that there were a surprising number of negative comments on Clarkesworld. Most surprising, given I had plenty of problems with the story, the main criticisms were that it wasn’t SF (even going so far as to calling it mundane) and that the narrator was inadequately male. To me, it’s clearly SF, and when the narrator is such a cipher anyway complaining about the voice is odd. I’m guessing if this was attributed by “B. Cooper” no one would have complained.

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