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More quotes — SF & Other, Relationshippy & Not — and a Quiz

(An extended version of the section that was published in the SFWA Bulletin.)

Heinlein didn't forget about relationships:

Jubal drummed on his chair arm. "Ben, I do not mind being treated flippantly by my juniors. But in this matter I insist that my years be treated with respect."
    "Sorry," Ben said stiffly. "I thought if it was all right for you to kick my sex life around, you would not mind my being equally frank."

(Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein)

However, for density, consider:

Tuesday was about typical. My four daughters — not one of them married, you understand — brought over their kids, one each, and explained to my wife how much fun she was going to have looking after them again.

("Welding with Children," Tim Gautreax)

Now, this is a dense IP story ("Typical" implies what follows is what the story's about; and that's relationships), but it wouldn't be impossible to use this as the opening of a Plot-rich story — who knows what kind of children they are....! — and yet it's still filled with attention to relationships: Four daughters [family relationship], who aren't married [marital relationship], have kids [family relationship], each explain [an IP interaction] to his wife [marital relationship], that she'll have [an IP interaction] "fun" looking after the grandkids [family relationship].

We are a family that has always been very close in spirit. Our father was drowned in a sailing accident when we were young, and our mother has always stressed the fact that our familial relationships have a kind of permanence that we will never meet with again.

("Goodbye, My Brother," John Cheever)

Okay, this one's a quiz; it's the opening from a new author's first published story:

On the day Vinod passed his B.Com., his father announced that they had found a suitable match for him. Would he have any objection to marrying Sheetal, the niece of his uncle's wife, who had been at Paplu's birthday party last week?

Is that the start of an IP story, or an SF story? This might be a hint: The author is a professor of mathematics who studies the numerical analysis of partial differential equations. There are some intruiging mysteries set out in this passage, yet it's dense with interpersonal relationships too. Another hint? The author has been known to paint movie posters, such as for Star Wars and Close Encounters. I could see it being the introduction of either kind of story; but as it happens....... It's from the New Yorker, "The Seven Circles," by Manil Suri, and is an IP story. (But with much SF-like exotic-worldliness.)

What about this one? (Names changed to avoid instant recognition.)

    "Look," she said, "this is my fault. I shouldn't have gone out with you tonight."
    "Yes, I know that now."
    "What I mean is, we have no right to put this on a personal... emotional level. You have so much to do. I have no right to come into your life at this time."
    "That's my worry, isn't it?"
    "Is it? This isn't your private affair any more, Harry. You've got obligations now—not only to Professor Rumen and Dr. Street, but to the millions who may follow in your footsteps."
    The more she talked that way, the worse I felt. She highlighted my awkwardness, my lack of knowledge about the right things to say and do. I was a blundering adolescent in her eyes, and she was trying to let me down easy.
    As we stood at the door to her apartment, she turned and smiled at me and for a moment I thought she was going to invite me in, but she just whispered: "Good night, Harry. Thank you for a wonderful evening."

So what that's from? A coming of age story, say, Catcher in the Rye? But it's got scientists in it. Is it Fritz Lieber's Hugo winning, The Big Time? SF, or IP? You tell me.

(It's the frequently-top-of-SF-charts Flowers for Algernon. Harry = Charlie, Rumen/Street = Nemur/Strauss.)

Is this one the opening of a mystery, an SF story, IP story, romance...?

Fact is the car needs to be sold in a hurry, and Leo sends Toni out to do it. Toni is smart and has personality. She used to sell children's encyclopedias door to door. She signed him up, even though he didn't have kids. Afterwards, Leo asked her for a date, and the date led to this.

I could see this style, and attention to relationships, continuing in any of the genres, but it's "Are These Actual Miles," by Raymond Carver, an IP story.

James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" is so imbued with this "relationshipness" it's almost impossible to find single sentences that embody it — this is a level deeper, showing every effect. It's about a guy who finds his brother has just been released from prison and well worth studying the whole piece for how he does it; it's widely included in "best ever" anthologies. Here are a bunch of quotes for flavor:

I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work. I read it, and I couldn't believe it, and I read it again. Then perhaps I just stared at it, at the newsprint spelling out his name, spelling out the story. I stared at it in the swinging lights of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside.

A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra. It was a special kind of ice. It kept melting, sending trickles of ice water all up and down my veins, but it never got less. Sometimes it hardened and seemed to expand until I felt my guts were going to come spilling out or that I was going to choke or scream. This would always be at a moment when I was remembering some specific thing Sonny had once said or done.

I saw this boy standing in the shadow of a doorway, looking just like Sonny. I almost called his name. Then I saw that it wasn't Sonny, but somebody we used to know, a boy from around our block. He'd been Sonny's friend. He'd never been mine, having been too young for me, and anyway, I'd never liked him. And now, even though he was a grown-up man, he still hung around that block, still spent hours on the street corner, was always high and raggy.

Daddy was big and rough and loud-talking, just the opposite of Sonny, but they both had—that same privacy.
    Momma tried to tell me something about this, just after Daddy died. I was home on leave from the Army.

And so on and on, the thing is just saturated at every level with relationshipness. (Re)read it, study it...

Flannery O'Connor's famous story, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," often cited as one of the best in the English language, is easily classified as a horror story and thus close kin to SF. It begins:

The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of the chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal.

Even ol' Dickens pays close attention to relationships, such as in "A Christmas Carol," which I don't think most people classify as an IP story (perhaps a ghost/horror story, or a morality play):

Scrooge knew [Marley] was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residual legatee, his sole friend and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

I looked at several volumes of "best ever" short fiction anthologies, and was astounded at the density of relationships, even in non-IP stories. In non-genre short fiction (IP and classics) I found the density even greater than in non-genre novels. So I inspected several "best ever" SF anthologies and found — still a desert of attention paid to relationships of the characters. There's some fine writing, storytelling, and worldbuilding, to be sure:

I put the shotgun in an Adidas bag and padded it out with four pairs of tennis socks, not my style at all, but that was what I was aiming for: If they think you're crude, go technical; if they think you're technical, go crude.

("Johnny Mnemonic," William Gibson.
No people but a vague "they.")

I had seen fighting slaves many times before when Mr. Million, David, and I had traversed the slave market to reach the library.

(Wolfe, "The Fifth Head of Cerberus."
People mentioned, but they might as well not have been.)

The houseboat had been built to the most exacting standards of Sirinese craftmanship, which is to say, as close to the absolute as human eye could detect. The planking of waxy dark wood show no joints, the fastenings were platinum rivets countersunk and polished flat.

("The Moon Moth," Jack Vance.
No specific or close people, no relationships.)

But I was hard-pressed to find any significant use of relationships as a craft technique in SF short fiction. (Whereas, again, in non-genre short fiction it's almost inescapable.)

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