Saturday, October 8, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #23

I have set up an "Alien Contact Anthology" Facebook page; in the column to the right, scroll down a bit to see the widget. If you are an FB user, please consider a "Like" on this FB page for future updates, including the full text of more stories, book giveaways, and more. Alien Contact is now available for preorder from Amazon and other booksellers, and is forthcoming in November from Night Shade Books. This is story #23 (of 26):

"Lambing Season"
by Molly Gloss

This story was originally published in the July 2002 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, and is approximately 5,700 words in length.

The weekend of March 11-13, I attended the first of what appears to be an annual Bay Area SF convention: FOGcon. One of the panels I sat in on was on the idea of "Regional SF." Panelist Terry Bisson raved about the story "Lambing Season" by Molly Gloss, stating that it was one of the best stories he had read that dealt with "sense of place." I was able to support Terry's comments about this story, and also to state that I had acquired it for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology. But I will let this excerpt from the beginning of the story speak for itself:

From May to September Delia took the Churro sheep and two dogs and went up on Joe-Johns Mountain to live. She had that country pretty much to herself all summer. Ken Owen sent one of his Mexican hands up every other week with a load of groceries but otherwise she was alone, alone with the sheep and the dogs. She liked the solitude. Liked the silence. Some sheepherders she knew talked a blue streak to the dogs, the rocks, the porcupines, they sang songs and played the radio, read their magazines out loud, but Delia let the silence settle into her, and, by early summer, she had begun to hear the ticking of the dry grasses as a language she could almost translate....


The wind blew out of the southwest in the early part of the season, a wind that smelled of juniper and sage and pollen; in the later months, it blew straight from the east, a dry wind smelling of dust and smoke, bringing down showers of parched leaves and seedheads of yarrow and bittercress. Thunderstorms came frequently out of the east, enormous cloudscapes with hearts of livid magenta and glaucous green. At those times, if she was camped on a ridge, she'd get out of her bed and walk downhill to find a draw where she could feel safer, but if she was camped in a low place, she would stay with the sheep while a war passed over their heads, spectacular jagged flares of lightning, skull-rumbling cannonades of thunder....

As I read this story I could smell the air of Joe-Johns Mountain -- the way it smells on an early summer morn, or when there is a bit of storm in the wind. Or the scent of wet grass after a heavy downpour. The two paragraphs above are only a small taste of this story's sense of place. Here's one more brief excerpt, with a hint of what is in store for Delia:
Lame Man Bench was a great upthrust block of basalt grown over with scraggly juniper forest. As she climbed among the trees, the smell of something like ozone or sulfur grew very strong, and the air became thick, burdened with dust. Threads of the yellow contrail [which she had seen moments early in the night sky] hung in the limbs of the trees. She went on across the top of the bench and onto slabs of shelving rock that gave a view to the west. Down in the steep-sided draw below her there was a big wing-shaped piece of metal resting on the ground, which she at first thought had been torn from an airplane, but then realized was a whole thing, not broken, and she quit looking for the rest of the wreckage. She squatted down and looked at it. Yellow dust settled slowly out of the sky, pollinating her hair, her shoulders, the toes of her boots, faintly dulling the oily black shine of the wing, the thing shaped like a wing.

I asked Molly Gloss to share with readers of this blog some thoughts on the story, and she wrote these very personal words:
After my husband died of cancer, I went three years without writing a single damn thing. "Lambing Season" was the first prose piece I wrote after that long dry spell. I knew it would be a first contact story but didn't know that the alien would be doglike until I came to the sentences describing him. My fifteen-year-old Dalmatian had just died--a dog that had behaved so protectively and so strangely during my husband's last illness and death--and I suppose the "alienness" of my dog's behavior must have been in my mind. And I then wrote into Delia's history a husband and a dog--just a sentence or two--that reflected something of my own experience, and everything I needed to know about Delia suddenly became clear to me.

And I believe I will let Molly's words close this blog post. "Lambing Season" was a finalist for the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, and the Asimov's Readers' Award.

[Continue to Story #24]

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