The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Wetlands Preserve" by Nancy Kress: An Appreciation by David B. Coe

I didn't exactly go out on a limb in choosing to comment on Nancy Kress's wonderful short story, "Wetlands Preserve." Nancy has been, deservedly, a legend in speculative fiction since well before I published my first novel. I won't presume to critique this story, except to say that it exemplifies all that is compelling and admirable about science fiction. It presents, eloquently and with powerful understatement, a simple tale of first contact. A vessel from another world has crashed in the middle of an Upstate New York nature preserve, and it falls to a cadre of scientists, including graduate student Lisa Jackson, to learn what they can about the new life form that has established itself in the wetlands.

This isn't a story of invasion in the usual sense of the word. There are no battles, no technologically advanced weapons, no blood-thirsty aliens intent on taking control of our world. There's a place for such stories, of course. But Nancy is trying to do something different here; this story is smaller than that, and at the same time grander. This is about one woman's attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible, to bring morality to the unconscionable, to impose order on the ever-growing chaos of what passes for normal human existence.

The details of Lisa's troubled personal life--her daily struggle to care for a severely disabled child, the increasing pressures of her research position, the sudden reappearance of her charismatic but dangerous ex-lover--are far more than a backdrop for the rest of the story. In Nancy Kress's hands, Lisa's trials and the fate of the creatures who have come to inhabit the Kenton Wetlands merge into a quiet, desperate tale that finds coherence without falling into cliché.

I could go on, but I won't. Do yourself a favor and read the story for yourself. As I said earlier, no one will be surprised that I've found so much to admire in Nancy's story. Indeed, the only thing less surprising than the quality of "Wetlands Preserve," is the fact that it was Ellen Datlow who found it for us, who made it available to the world. That is Ellen's gift; it's the reason why so many of us find the end of SCI FICTION so disturbing. We depend upon Ellen to find us great stories. Perhaps we'd even taken for granted the notion that she'd always have a forum for doing so. No doubt she will again, and soon. But SCI FICTION was Ellen's through and through. The quality of the fiction she published there, the professionalism of the site, the privilege afforded to those of us fortunate enough to work with her--those things will be difficult to replace.

The decision to end SCI FICTION should give pause to all of us in the industry. If Ellen Datlow's site isn't safe, can any site or publication be? If stories as good as "Wetlands Preserve" can't convince the suits to choose literature over profit, what can? Difficult, troubling questions, but ones we have to answer, not simply for Ellen's sake, as she herself would be the first to point out, but for the sake of all who love speculative fiction.

Link to story.


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