March 7, 2013 by Heidi
Salute Your Shorts is a regular feature here at Bunbury in the Stacks highlighting and reviewing short stories and novellas.
Title: Fade to White [Clarkesworld|Goodreads]
Author: Catherynne M. Valente [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Stand alone novelette.
Genre: Sci Fi, Alternate History, Dystopian
Published: August 2012 in Clarkesworld Magazine
Format: E-book (no approximate page length given).
Source: Clarkesworld Magazine
Each year I eagerly await the nominations for the Nebula awards, and each year I am unsurprised if I see my beloved Cat Valente’s name pop up somewhere in the categories. This year she is nominated for the novelette category for her story Fade to White, which appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine in August of 2012. Obviously, I wanted to carve out some time for it.
Fade to White is just the sort of story I love. It doesn’t spoon feed you the world–it has more important things to do in its short time before your eyes, instead, it unfolds along with the story, allowing the reader to extrapolate what they will. We enter to a scene that could be a cut from Mad Men, the pitch being edited with notes and sent back to the copy writers for tweaking. Except this isn’t the “charming” 1960s that we all know and love. Sure, it feels like it comes from around that era, but it also has a distinctly dystopian air.
Ah, Cat Valente, there you go mastering with the turn of your pen what so many others never quite achieve. The world of Fade to White presents us with an alternate history–a quite believable alternate history in which the United States falls into a dystopia of McCarthyism and the Cold War is anything but. Having lost so many men to the Japanese, Germans, and Russians, and presumably feeling the aftereffects of radiation/chemical warfare, the fertile men of this country are reduced to a mere 12%.
I’ve long since found the connection between dystopians and fertility interesting, but leave it to Cat Valente to be the one who focuses the issue on male fertility rather than female (I cannot think of another case of this, but please point me in the right direction if you know of one). In addition, leave it to her to create a dystopian from a time where its formation would be much more believable than today–a time that was riddled with fear, and loss was known in countless households. A time when being a minority meant being an enemy or a tool, when taking the man out of the household could feel like women’s lib.
Fade to White follows the story of this nation through the eyes of two youths coming to an age where they will do their good and Christian duties to serve their country as their country sees fit. Sylvie, who is able to recognize the pointlessness and cruelty of it all–the need for deception and lack of meaning; Martin who dreams of being a Husband and fulfilling the greatest roll of man–to be husband and father to his family.
Cat’s story has reminded me of everything I love best in this genre, how the thoughtfulness it invokes can be more powerful in a short number of pages than so many authors have been able to create in several full-volume works. Far from one note, Fade to White is a story that I will continue to think about for days to come, one that asks the question “What if?” and lets the reader decide for themselves its true weight.
I’ve also reviewed:
Mouse Koan by Catherynne M. Valente
Keertana reviews The Queen’s Army by Marissa Meyer, and since I failed to include it in my last Salute Your Shorts post, let’s not forget her thoughts on Ferragost by Melina Marchetta (a short you’ll most certainly be seeing here soon since I’m well into MM’s Lumatere Chronicles myself).