Some particular trends in genre literature have become obvious during the past few years. One of them is the use of Brobdingnagian titles, a compulsion to write paragraph-long titles, some of whom even give away the plot. I suspect this may have started as a quirky, ironic thing to do, but I don’t think it’s funny unless you are lampooning or referencing some stuffy style like academic papers or writing comedy. And, to be fair, that’s to some extent what this story is doing—referencing, not the comedy.
The complete title of this very short piece by Nibedita Sen is Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island, which is way less interesting than my alternative title: The lesbian cannibal she-devils of Ratnabar Island. It’s mating season… and they want your blood!
But the original title is probably closer to the truth: Ten quotations from fictional academic papers or books on those women from the imaginary island of Ratnabar.
I think there’s a finalist like this each year, a piece that uses a postmodern meta-style to tell some kind of story, whether in an hyperlink style or as comments on a online document, etc. They are usually the best stories—if only because they are very short, so my suffering is smaller.
There’s not much to tell here, though. In these ten excerpts, you get to uncover some things about the island and the inhabitants and what happened to their descendants. There’s actually a small story hidden there as some characters appear in a few quotations, and there is potential in this format, as it allows the reader to unlock a mystery by picking up and arranging the pieces. Unfortunately, this is just ten dull academic papers, so the potential of some kind of whodunnit or twist left for the attentive reader to discover is left underutilized. As said, this is a lesbian power allegory, or, at the very least, an emancipation one for women in general—or maybe something about wömen not belonging in the kitchen who knows.
The gist of the story is that these women were from an uncontacted society with only women and children and they seem to have some repulsive ritual involving cannibalism, which is related to their reproduction. But this shouldn’t be taken too literally, as it’s obviously an allegory for how certain revolutionary mindsets can be reproduced without need for the “male” other or similar cultural intermediaries.
If you care about such things, this may interest you. I don’t. But at least it felt more like reading some strange alien script, which can be intriguing, rather than that feeling of being sexually harrassed by a sweaty hippopotamus I always get when reading short story Hugo finalists. Besides, it’s short. I probably would have hanged myself if this were an 8,000-word story about sociology students writing papers about a couple of lesbian corpse-eater lovers and their miraculous and disgusting reproductive methods.
Meta-style not used to its full potential –
No hot lesbian action – – –
Didn’t make me nauseous +
Barely Fantasy or Science Fiction even by current loose Hugo standards – – –
Not very terrifying for being a piece published in a horror magazine – –
Amazingly, no white guilt tripping + [edit: Well, less white guilt. See comments]