Thursday, May 13, 2010

Vinegar Peace, or, the Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage

Novelette by Michael Bishop
Originally published in Asimov's
Podcast at StarshipSofa: Read by Diane Severson

I'm sorry Mr. Bishop's son died, but sympathy doesn't make me like his story. And on second reading, I wasn't quite as negative. But when the first reading inspires me to go back and keep a list of things I disliked, and I get to three pages ranting about it, I feel there is at least room for improvement.

A jumble of references to concentration camps, 1984, and even Hotel California takes 15 pages of surreal tour-guiding through what amounts to a concentration camp for the elderly and never really develops a story. There are hints of vague political and social commentary that don't go anywhere, although there is the start of some interesting material about how we treat the bereaved.

But overall, the bizarre, over-the-top cruelty of the entire society, starting with kicking the elderly out of their homes on the day their last child dies, putting them into a concentration camp under threat of death if they try to leave (and yet paying for a ton of services for these people they seem willing to kill in a heartbeat), and then forcing them through all sorts of absurd grief counseling techniques. The confusion is probably somewhat deliberate, as the recently bereaved undoubtedly feel confused and frustrated, but it rapidly overcomes any suspension of disbelief I had.

The "wrong-way, used-adult orphan" and "War on Worldwide Wickedness" terminology doesn't make a lot of sense and just drives me nuts. Plus the fact that the protagonist had never heard of wrong-way orphans before, despite having a society at war that locks up the parents of every soldier who dies. The random censoring of names also bugs me: You are Joyce K-, friend of Ms. B- and Father H-, talking to Dr. S- about the war on the snowy provinces of R-, but Mr. Weevil doesn't care about redacting his name and just wants to watch a boring acclimation movie.

As you think about that, you realize that the second person viewpoint really bugs you. Especially when it seems the writer is telling you how to feel.
"Only someone similarly bereft can know your devastation."
Who needs characterization when you are the main character and you are told how you feel on the first few pages. Better spend more pages describing the arboretum that only exists for psychologist to stand creepily around pestering people in, in long, awkward, comma-ridden sentences, broken up by interjections long enough to distract from the point of the sentence, during pretty much all the description. Which would be less annoying if the dialog had quotation marks or any kind of labeling.

There are bits of commentary and satire here, but I can't focus over the obnoxiousness of the writing, the over-the-top-to-the-point-of-stupidity weirdness, and the concept of imprisoning that many people, kicking them out of their homes, confiscating their possessions, changing the American flag, and talking too much about communion ricecakes and wine vinegar. Therapy or execution. It's like Brazil was set in a nursing home. And sucked. 1 out of 5.

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