The Sloan Men, by David Nickle

May 31, 2008

Listen to it at Pseudopod. Read the text here.

I’m usually not fond of short fiction that tackles issues like discrimination or abusive relationships, or anything like that. The main reason for this is that these stories are hard to pull off. Either the point is missed completely, and I feel like an idiot for not picking up on the themes, or the writer is simply too heavy-handed and it becomes nothing more than a dressed-up sermon on how I should live my life.

I’m all for fiction setting the right example, but there’s a difference between showing me how things should be done and hitting me across the head with the writer’s superior moral values.

When I realised what direction The Sloan Men by David Nickle was going, I cringed. ‘Not another one,’ I thought. Female empowerment seems to be a recurring theme in the speculative fiction I’ve been reading as of late, and I find it annoying at the best of times.

Just for the record, I’m female. I’ve got no real reason for disliking the theme, as I’m all for female empowerment. It’s just, there’s a time and a place for it, and I don’t need your politics in my fiction, thankyoukindly.

However, I think The Sloan Men handled the subject quite well. This is mostly because the story had enough thoroughly disturbing elements that I was distracted from any possible preachiness, either real or imaginary. This story had some wonderfully scary ideas that got under my skin so much, that I found myself able to look past the ‘abusive other half really IS a monster!’ thing, which I think is rather played-out. Luckily, they were really cool monsters in this story, so I’m going to let the author off.

The women fought back in the most literal sense of the word, physically destoying the source of the men’s power. I quite enjoyed this, as this completed the reversal of traditional gender roles within the story. I won’t say too much, as I don’t want to ruin the ending for anyone who hasn’t given this a listen yet.

The ending… I wasn’t sure what to think of it at first. Now I’ve decided that I like it, because it reinforces the reversal of gender roles even more, but as I was listening, I was left a little nonplussed and confused. I was hoping for a more conventional happy ending, but the option the author went for really works on many more levels than the simple ‘and then she left him and lived happily ever after’.

All in all, this is the best example of spec fic tackling this theme that I’ve ever seen. It’s much more subtle than Rachel Swirsky’s Heartstrung (listen to it at Pseudopod here), which, although enjoyable, slapped me with a brick with OMG THIS IS BAD. The Sloan Men does have a strong message and a situation that I’ve encountered in fiction before, but it has enough going on throughout the story to keep it from descending into a supernatural sermon.

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