This week I returned once more to Tor to look at another piece of short fiction. I was especially intrigued to read a story by Jeff VanderMeer, since he’s actually been on my radar for a while as one of the editors of The Weird. Side note that his wife, Ann VanderMeer, also edited The Weird, as well as some of the other Tor stories I’ve read for Short Tuesday thus far, plus edited this story as well, which adds a whole different layer of interesting. You can read the short story for free here…
I’ll be honest—I’m a bit flummoxed by this story! It documents one man’s interactions with an alien force that has engulfed the Earth; the narrative focuses more on the MC’s discovery of the world and the realization of what is happening than on any kind of plot. The aliens are of the parasitic variety, rather than laser gun toting sort, and the focus throughout is on the natural progression of the parasite—what happens to Earth’s flora and fauna, as well as how the parasite (called the “story-creature”) physically and mentally manifests itself in the MC.
And while I stood there in the shadows of the moonless night, beyond the street lamps, beyond the circling moths and with the nighthawks gliding silent overhead…while I stood there and pleaded, the story-creature sprouted out of the top of my skull in a riot of wildflowers, goldenrod, and coarse weeds.
There are many instances throughout where it’s difficult to get a sense of what’s happening, which adds to the story in my opinion. With a kind of Lovecraftian flair, the MC is presented with beings and creatures that don’t really make sense, and all he can do is relay what’s happening as best he can based on his human capacities. At the same time he is uncovering truths about himself; contact with the alien parasite has changed him in irreparable, unexpected ways.
I think this is the kind of story that really needs a few reads. The prose has such a driving momentum that you kind of can’t help reading onward, even as your brain is trying to parse what’s happening, so I felt like there was quite a lot I was missing. Even so, I like to think that there would be so many unknowns in the event of actual extraterrestrial contact that this story conveys that uncertain feeling exceedingly well. Who knows—maybe I’ll read through it again sometime and see how the story hits me a second time around.