Thursday, July 21, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #12

If you are wondering what's up with this Alien Contact anthology (forthcoming from Night Shade Books in November) and this "Story #12" -- you may want to begin here.

"Angel" by Pat Cadigan

This story was originally published in the May 1987 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and is approximately 6,800 words in length. And this was an excellent issue of IASFM, too. Just look at the names on the cover! -- plus additional stories by Bruce Boston, Dave Smeds, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Roger Dutcher & Robert Frazier.

If I may, I'd like to repeat three sentences from a blog post I wrote just over a year ago, on May 17, 2010. In that post I introduced a story -- "The Taste of Night" -- that appeared in my co-edited anthology Is Anybody Out There? (Daw Books, 2010), and following that mini introduction, I posted the entire text of the story, serialized over three blog posts. If you look to the right of this blog post, under the header MOST POPULAR POSTS, you will see that, even more than a year later, that story remains one of the most read entries on this blog. Here are those three sentences:

I first met Pat Cadigan at my first ArmadilloCon in Austin, Texas, in 1988, and we've remained friends ever since. I recall writing to Pat prior to that convention, informing her that I was specifically reading some of her fiction ahead of time so that we could chat about it during the con. I was then, and always will be, a fan of her work.

Bottom line, there was no way that I would be involved in this anthology project and not include a story by Ms. Pat Cadigan. In fact, I had four stories from which to choose, and I read them each multiple times, but in the end I selected "Angel."

I asked Pat to share some thoughts on the story, and this is what she wrote:
"Angel" is still one of my favourite's my justification for never throwing anything away. I had thrown away the original typed draft because I couldn't come up with an ending. Later I reconstructed the story from handwritten drafts, and typed it up on the new computer I'd just bought—and there was the ending, along with the whole point of the story.

This story was actually a few years in the making.... What was significant about the time when I finally finished the story, what had changed between the time I started it and the time I finished it were two things: 1) I had just finished my first novel, and 2) I was a new mother. The former was a major milestone for me—after years of producing short fiction, I had had to learn how to think in terms of a whole forest rather than focusing on a single, intriguing tree, as it were. But the latter was really the more dramatic change. Having my son changed everything. Not just in the obvious ways, either. I like to believe that I became not just a better writer but a better person, not because I had all the answers but because I understood that I didn't. I like to think that I was finally able to finish "Angel" because being a parent showed me that there could be no neat ending, that you can try to do what's best but there's no certainty.

Understanding extraterrestrials will take some doing when we don't really understand ourselves—especially those of us who, through no choice of our own, were born outsiders.
From the title of the story -- "Angel" -- I initially thought it would be an "alien as God" or "God as alien" story. But it's not. It's actually much more than that. Angel is being punished for the rule he has broken, for the sin he has committed -- but from my reference point, the sin has actually been committed by the Others [capitalized], and Angel is taking the hit for their reprehensible rule. By the end of the story, it is Angel who sacrifices himself in order to protect the others [lowercase]. Here are a few excerpts from the story:

Stand with me awhile, Angel, I said and Angel said he'd do that. Angel was good to me that way, good to have with you on a cold night and nowhere to go. We stood on the street corner together and watched the cars going by and people and all. The streets were lit up like Christmas, streetlights, store lights, marquees over the all-night movie houses and bookstores blinking and flashing....

We were standing there awhile and I was looking around at nothing and everything, the cars cruising past, some of them stopping now and again for the hookers posing by the curb, and then I saw it, out of the corner of my eye. Stuff coming out of the Angel, shiny like sparks but flowing like liquid. Silver fireworks. I turned and looked all the way at him and it was gone. And he turned and gave a little grin like he was embarrassed I'd seen.

And a short while later, after determining that they are hungry, Angel and friend make their way to a diner:

The waitress came over with a little tiny pad to take our order. I cleared my throat. It seemed like I hadn't used my voice in a hundred years. "Two cheeseburgers and two fries," I said, "and two cups of—" I looked up at her and froze. She had no face. Like, nothing, blank from hairline to chin, soft little dents where the eyes and nose and mouth would have been. Under the table, the Angel kicked me, but gentle.

"And two cups of coffee," I said.

She didn't say anything—how could she?—as she wrote down the order and then walked away again. All shaken up, I looked at the Angel but he was calm like always.

She's a new arrival, Angel told me and leaned back in his chair. Not enough time to grow a face.

But how can she breathe? I said.

Through her pores. She doesn't need much air yet.

Yah, but what about—like, I mean, don't other people notice that she's got nothing there?

No. It's not such an extraordinary condition. The only reason you notice is because you're with me. Certain things have rubbed off on you. But no one else notices. When they look at her, they see whatever face they expect someone like her to have. And eventually, she'll have it.

But you have a face, I said. You've always had a face.

I'm different, said the Angel.

This story is a contradiction in tone -- it's what I would call subtle and soft, and yet it is very violent at times. The story also had me wondering: Is it science fiction? Is it fantasy? Both? And it seems that I wasn't the only one who wasn't quite sure. "Angel" was a finalist in the short story category for all three major genre awards: the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Want to read "Angel" in its entirety online? In October, Pat Cadigan will be a guest blogger on website -- a daily publication that covers science, science fiction, and the future. Following her blog post, io9 will host the complete story "Angel." You can subscribe to io9, track it through RSS, or simply check back here as I will certainly be linking to her blog post and the story as soon as it is available. See the follow-up blog post: "'Angel' -- A Visitor of a Different Kind."

[Continue to Story #13]

No comments:

Post a Comment