Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Near of Kin: Wheres the Sci fi?

When I read “Near of Kin,” the what ran through my head while I read it was “when is this going to be a science fiction story?” There were no whiz-bang flying cars or androids or anything else. It was only about two thirds of the way through the story that I realized that the spectacle I had come to expect of science fiction was not going to happen. The entire story takes place in one room, hardly a showcase for technology or alien civilizations, and even the surprise twist ending I was sure would come on the last page did not come.
However, perhaps there is a sci fi aspect to the story. While the characters start off seemingly completely normal, throughout the story there is a constant alienation of the characters from the reader, as you learn more and more of their disturbing past. In this case, this would not be science fiction in the literal sense, but an appropriation of the emotions and conventions of science fiction in order to achieve the same alienation (alienation that is usually in a literal sense) in a contemporary, non-speculative story. This alienation arises, of course, from incest.
Incest is the ultimate taboo, and to see this universally reviled act is treated, as the author herself calls it: “a sympathetic story about incest,” creates a huge disconnect between the reader and the characters. I am confident that upon asking any person whether they could be sympathetic toward incest, they would almost always answer with an immediate and emphatic no. Furthermore they would find it difficult to understand the situation in which such an act could even possibly be sympathetic. To be dropped into a world where the narrator’s uncle, while not condoning, has somewhat accepted incest as part of his life is completely unrelatable in the same way as asking a person point-blank what their opinions on incest are.
But then comes the next greatest power that science fiction has: the ability to make the alien relatable, to sympathize with something completely foreign. Octavia’s story is surprisingly relatable. The characters handle incest in a sympathetic and relatable way, and the gradual introduction of the issue in the story, rather than beating the reader over the head with it (a sci fi trope which the story thankfully avoided). So while not a literal science fiction story, Near of Kin appropriates perhaps the best parts of the genre, and employs them in an unexpected, yet no less alien setting.


Post a Comment