Feb 4 2009 11:04am

A is for Alien in 60 Seconds

Award-winning author Caitlín R. Kiernan told that her latest book is A is for Alien, a collection of her short science fiction stories—stories that many SF readers would label “dystopian.”

“Personally, I don’t see them that way; I think it’s a collection of stories about consequences,” Kiernan said in an interview. “That is, how the world and human society might be reshaped by the consequences of the present, and the past.”

The book also revisits some of the themes that have dominated much of Kiernan’s work. “One is morphological and psychological transformation, whether by choice or as an unforeseen consequence following from some profound event in the life of a character,” she said. “The other recurring theme is the problem of humanity’s significance relative to the cosmos at large. Or, more accurately, humanity’s relative insignificance.”

Kiernan said that her favorite story in the book is probably “A Season of Broken Dolls.” “I’ve become fascinated with epistolary first-person narratives, because they permit such an intimate view of a character’s psyche, and such a subjective, unreliable account of external events,” she said. “I think this is an example where I come very close to getting it exactly right.”

Some of the stories are very personal, and rather claustrophobic, occurring a very small stage. “‘In View of Nothing,’ for instance. Two women in a motel room, and though the story might, through flashbacks, take you out of that room, it is, in the end, a story about two women in a room,” Kiernan said.

That story was inspired by a recurring nightmare Kiernan had. “The story is essentially me trying to present as faithful a transcript of the dream as possible, and the nonlinear narrative is an attempt to mirror the dream’s constantly shifting nature,” she said. “Usually, my dreams, which are often very vivid, only serve as inspiration for stories. I don't generally try to write them out in this literal, blow-by-blow fashion. The dreams were a profoundly unnerving experience, and making a story of them seemed to help.”

But not all of the stories in the book are in that vein. “In contrast, there are pieces like the Martian odyssey ‘Bradbury Weather,’ which begins at the base of Tharsis Tholus and ends up at Lowell Crater, far to the south,” Kiernan said. “Either way, though, it’s the psychological distances that the characters travel that is most important here.”

1 comment
Andrew Ty
1. eldritch00
Kiernan is one of my favorite writers, and I've had this on pre-order since it was first announced.

I've always gotten the impression that her SF was underrated (especially in comparison with her other work), and I hope that observation is inaccurate, because it would be a pity.

Her novella The Dry Salvages is incredibly nuanced. "Riding the White Bull" is another (longish) short story that comes to mind as being quite good, too. Oh, I just love 'em all.

Several works available online, including "A Season of Broken Dolls" and "The Ape's Wife" (arguably not really SF but a rather moving piece that I can't help but recommend).

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