Each month, Daniel Haeusser reviews short works of SFT that appear both online and in print. He is an Assistant Professor in the Biology Department at Canisius College, where he teaches microbiology and leads student research projects with bacteria and bacteriophage. He’s also an associate blogger with the American Society for Microbiology’s popular Small Things Considered. Daniel reads broadly in English and French, and his book reviews can be found at Reading1000Lives or Skiffy & Fanty. You can also connect with him on Goodreads or Twitter.
“The Mauve Planet” by Safia Ketou, translated from the French by Nadia Ghanem
ArabLit.com, August 13
A Terran ship carrying two astronauts on a routine mission is taken off course into unchartered space by an alien technology that brings them to the surface of the aliens’ planet. Brought to speak with the leader, the humans begin to learn about the alien culture, but also the lamentable purpose behind why they were brought there. This is a case of a translated work that will likely be of more academic interest than purely for entertainment. The themes of the short story are intriguing in context of its origin source. Translator Ghanem prefaces the story with that needed context. Briefly, this is the title story from a collection written by the Algerian Ketou during the 1960s and 1970s; her work is tightly intertwined with traditional folklore, local culture, and the developing Algeria, newly ‘independent’ (after bitter conflict) from French colonialism. There is historical value in this translation, and further translation of Ketou’s work would be a benefit. Unfortunately, for the average reader the story may not be much beyond a curiosity. The writing – particularly the dialogue – seems often unnatural and contrived, and cultural differences for some readers (in terms of behavior of guests/hosts) may make a lot of the plot hard to accept. For the right audience who reads SF for something beyond the surface levels of stories, this is a worthwhile read.
“The Loneliest Ward” by Hao Jingfang, translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu
Qina and Auntie Han are two nurses, with very different personalities, tasked with caring for a ward of patients who are being treated with neurotransducers for a new condition that is spreading rapidly through the population, leaving people incapacitated by extreme social anxiety. A recent break-up and building curiosity and temptation lead Qina to consider her patients condition and treatment more closely. This short story by the Hugo Award winning author of the superb Folding Beijing is a clear commentary/indictment of the relationship between people and social media. Overall, it’s well written in style and tone. While I didn’t mind just how blatant it is in theme, the predictable conclusion lessens its impact.