Review #6: Spar by Kij Johnson

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Jan 19, 2010 in Reviews |

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Published by: Clarkesworld Magazine, October 2009

The Story:

Despite the sexually explicit nature of this story, it is more a chronicle of the mind and madness of a woman forced to share a cramped, dank lifeboat with a non-humanoid alien. After an unlikely mid-space collision tears apart her ship and kills her lover Gary, she finds herself in a lifeboat ill-equipped for humans. The ship consists of a tube for feeding and another for refuse, beyond which is only the alien — something like a pungent jello-mold with cilia. The only diversion from their unending days adrift is the act of constantly raping each other.

The Craft:

Written in a series of twenty compact scenes, some as short as a single sentence, this story quickly immerses the reader in the awfulness of being trapped in a bad situation from which there is no escape. Nothing changes. There is only anger and resentment and vengeful sex with an alien she’s not even sure is sentient or some sort of alien houseplant. It doesn’t attempt to communicate with her, only forces its Outs into her Ins while she does the same to it. And sadly, this sparring is preferable to trying to remember the pleasures that life used to hold.

Structurally, the sentences are short and choppy for the most part, and the tone of the story comes off as mechanical and repetitive, and sort of leaves you feeling seasick, but in a good way. It encompass what life must be like for the character. Her situation degrades, though her mind keeps going back to Gary, shedding a light on the humanity she finds is quickly vanishing. By the time the ship arrives at its destination, she is so lost, not even knowing what she is anymore, and all because of a random and infinitely improbable collision in space.

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