07 March 2004

"Aliens Enter the Conversation" by Greg Beatty

Before reading "Aliens Enter the Conversation" over at Fortean Bureau, I knew Greg Beatty's name primarily from his nonfiction at Strange Horizons, though he's been publishing fiction for quite some time now, and is, along with Jay Lake, one of the masters of SF short-short stories (aka "flash fiction").

I read "Aliens Enter the Conversation" after a couple of days of reading dull stories. For some reason, everything I picked up, from the latest issue of F&SF to a bunch of different tales online, seemed competent but undeveloped or juvenile or unambitious or just plain dull. Then I found Beatty's story.

The story is a kind of incantation, a prose poem Allen Ginsberg might have come up with if he'd been stuck out in the desert with a bunch of old pulp magazines. Each paragraph begins, "Aliens enter..." and continues from there, often throwing in fun references to beloved SF personalities (as well as historical and pop cultural figures). Here's one of my favorite passages:
Aliens enter the arts through David Hartwell's wardrobe. Aliens enter the arts to get free passes to Zoolander and Charlie's Angels, which they loved, and because they want to study acting with Robert Duvall. Aliens were going to take over the country music industry, but they were stopped by the Man in Black. Who knows what will happen now? It could be the end of Nashville as we know it. John W. Campbell wishes that aliens entered the arts by writing for him, but alas, thus far aliens have only written for The New Yorker, and maybe Penthouse. No one's sure there, not even the aliens. Aliens try to enter the arts through Girls Gone Wild, but alien titty is too much even for a frat boy. Aliens entered the arts through the mind of Philip K. Dick, because not even a science fiction writer could make that shit up.
The witty fun continues, but there's more going on here, and if you let the sentences and paragraphs accumulate in your mind, they develop a certain weight, so that by the end, I had a sense of a narrator making a paen to lost wonder in a pathetic, raging voice.

Thus, a piece which has seemed to be little more than a collection of semi-random, off-kilter sentences reveals itself to be much more than that. Becoming more than it seems at first is what good short fiction is about, and after reading so many things which were exactly what I expected them to be after a few paragraphs, I owe Greg Beatty some thanks for bringing his aliens into the conversation.