Onwards and up(?)wards!
Carolyn Ives Gilman takes a stab at Lovecraftian fiction with Touring with the Alien. Like the alien-human-road-trip film that likely inspired this short story (see left), while the tradesmanship is fine, the pointlessness and meaninglessness of the tale result in nothing more than a few fleeting moments of enjoyment that as forgettable as the story itself.
Reading Touring with the Alien was a much more pleasant experience than my last foray into Hugo territory. Unlike Alyssa Wong, Gilman sticks to tried and true prose and narrative structures that work. Her descriptions of a cross country tour evoke the drifting way that time seems to expand as the miles fly by, the terrain outside the window changes, and the towns stay the same, and then contract for the memorable slices of Americana like a downtown café or a county fair.
Her descriptions of a mother's grief at the loss of a child are strong and poignant, with every aspect of the story from the gray weather to the wet grass to the broken terra-cotta angel left on her daughter's grave lending itself to instilling a feeling of sorrow in the reader. This aspect of Avery, the point-of-view character, humanizes her with a fullness that you don't see all that often in today's 'female bad ass secret agent' characters.
It's tight and compelling writing. Shame its wasted on such a pointless story. Carolyn Ives Gilman continues the Hugo Award trend of failing to understand the difference between a trade and an art. Gilman masterfully strings together sentences that pile up into a pointless heap of garbage the way a master carpenter might lend his talents to this monstrosity:
The phrase "point-of-view character" used to describe Avery sounds clunky, but it's as good as it gets. For all that she is presented as a sympathetic victim of fate, she is no hero. She consigns humanity to the dustbin of history, regretful only that she wasn't given the free choice to do so, but was tricked into it by the slave of the alien slavers come to conquer the earth:
Gilman knows which side of the Hugo bread is buttered, and right out of the gate, she checks that all important box without which no story can be considered for the silver rocket:
With that passage, as pointless as the rest of the story, we are two for two in the 2017 Novelette category for tacked-on virtue signaling. Gilman stops the narrative before it has even begun in order to wave a red flag of GoodThink around the arena to distract the ever-present bulls of the thought police. She knows full well that without this signal the rest of the story becomes as pointless as, well, as the rest of the story. She knows that without the first sentence of that paragraph, this story would not have been a Hugo Contender. Of course, given the SJW penchant for quoting out of context and utter lack of reading comprehension, every sentence of this paragraph after the first will be ignored by them, but the struggle is the glory. Once again, the objection here is not the inclusion of a homosexual character, but the hamfistedness manner in which its done. The character of Lionel is expressly written as Hispanic, an important check mark in the racial inclusivity box, but unlike Blake and Jeff, the fact of Lionel's race is presented seamlessly and organically.
There is a second passage that once again showcases Gilman's insular provinciality. This is a woman so steeped in her own culture that she paints the Other with a brush that reveals more about herself than those whom she writes:
And that sort of shallowness of thought doesn't limit itself to descriptions of 'flyover country', it that permeates Touring with the Alien. Avery is presented as a smart and tough operator who outwits the CIA, but who then gets fooled by her boss and the inexperienced and naïve alien slave, Lionel. Avery bounces from caring sister to hard case to grieving mother to indifferent genocidal maniac with head snapping speed. The aliens are presented as all-wise, then know-nothing - eating raw cats makes you sick, bro - with the same sort of disregard for continuity or sense.
Then there's the complete disconnect between the story's main theme of "Nothing really matters," and the constant reminders that we are surrounded by big deals. All of these disconnects slowly pile up the thoughtful reader's mind, making this story a complete and utter hash.
It's well written hash, and it's hash that the empty headed will enjoy, but in the end, Touring with the Alien is as pointless as the worldview it illustrates.