Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Orange by Neil Gaiman

This one is slick and amusing. The conceit is that the story is composed completely of answers to questions the reader doesn’t get to see. As the first lines say: “Third Subject’s Responses to Investigator’s Written Questionnaire. EYES ONLY.”

The funniest bits arrive early:
“7. Several times a day.
“8. No.”

The wildly speculative places that those answers take the reader are worth a chuckle. The actual story, alas, is familiar and prosaic, despite its unusual format. Told from the point of view of a 17-year-old girl, it’s the story of a nutty scientist mother with a laboratory in the garage and the irritating younger sister, Nerys, who is transformed by one of the mother’s experimental dyes into a glowing orange “Immanence” floating above the ground and demanding to be worshipped. When things begin to get out of hand, aliens arrive in a spaceship and intervene, taking the transformed Nerys away and promising not to harm her.

The clever format doesn’t actually work. Since the written questionnaire is presumably prepared in advance, the questions could not flow from the previous answers as the narrative requires. They do, thus undercutting the premise.

"Orange" by Neil Gaiman, originally published in The Starry Rift edited by Jonathan Strahan (Viking, 2008).
Link: Year’s Best SF 14 summation and table of contents


  1. "When things begin to get out of hand, aliens arrive in a spaceship and intervene..." sounds like deus ex machina.

    1. Yes, exactly. It forces a tidy ending without addressing any of the relationships or issues that the story has introduced.