Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

‘Froggies’ by Laura Whitton

with 2 comments

It is some sort of cruel joke putting this straight after Le Guin’s story and Sarrantonio manages to contribute his worst introduction yet: he slaps himself and Dan Simmons on the back for discovering Whitton whilst pretending not to and at the same time simultaneously over-praises and denigrates her work. According to isfdb this was both her first and last published story.

In contrast to Le Guin, Whitton puts her xenoanthropologist centre stage. Unfortunately Jo-ann, her main character, is possibly the worst xenoanthropologist imaginable. Advanced life has been found on a new planet but apparently this species shows no sign of intelligence so the whole planet has been handed over for mining to the company that discovered it. Jo-ann sets out to prove the species are intelligent after all. (How she manages to get to another planet and set up her research centre without any apparent backing is never explained.) Her methods are even more baffling. The warning signs that she is not perhaps the most serious researcher are there from the beginning with the fact she is happy to call them Froggies. This doesn’t prepare the reader for the fact that she then kidnaps a Froggie and raises it as her son. “The ethics panel would have a field day with her methods.” No shit.

The Froggies are intelligent and quickly learn to speak English. Rather bizarrely this is not considered evidence of intelligence, that would supposedly only be proved if they had their own language. Again, this is never explained nor is it made clear how an alien species can seem entirely unintelligent to a trained xenoanthropologist survey but quickly learn English after being given a hug.

Somewhere in this mess there is some interesting stuff about how the Froggies perceive the world in their natural state. Mostly this is lost by the stupidity of the story.

Quality: *
Shiftiness: **

Written by Martin

21 April 2009 at 15:16

Posted in sf, short stories

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. The last time I spoke to Laura about 4.5 years ago, she was expanding this story into a novel, to clarify the characters and expand information on the aliens.

    They are rather intriguing aliens. I often think of that last scene when she follows the child into the throng and tumbles around with the aliens.

    I laughed when you said: “The Froggies are intelligent and quickly learn to speak English. Rather bizarrely this is not considered evidence of intelligence…”

    There was a time it wasn’t considered a sign of intelligence for black, aboriginal or Asian people to speak English as a second language either. I didn’t consider it bizarre, just the norm for short-sighted humans. Quite believable, and I think Laura is more observant of human nature than you give her credit for.

    You also state: “The warning signs that she is not perhaps the most serious researcher are there from the beginning with the fact she is happy to call them Froggies.”

    This indicated that she was trying to fit in with the society around her to deflect suspicion that she might consider the aliens intelligent. The fact that she used the term in the safety of her home was to make it second nature so that she didn’t slip up outside the home and ruin the facade.

    Kind of like calling people “niggers” when speaking about them with your neighbours, while in fact you were secretly sending black people to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

    I use that historical parallel, to point out your lack of awareness of the subtleties of the story.

    Judith Johnston

    2 May 2009 at 00:33

  2. The last time I spoke to Laura about 4.5 years ago, she was expanding this story into a novel

    Well, thankfully she seems to have thought better of this.

    Martin

    2 May 2009 at 10:07


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