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SH Flashback: "Inventory," by Carmen Maria Machado

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A new entry in my weekly Strange Horizons retrospective.

This week's Strange Horizons Flashback story:

Inventory,” by Carmen Maria Machado
Gorgeous, slow-building, devastating story in list form, and I feel like saying much more than that would be spoilery, so I'll hold off 'til after the spoiler warning below. NSFW; explicit sex scenes. (Also: trigger warning for one brief scene of attempted sexual assault.) (Published in 2013.) (3,500 words.)

(See also the full list of Flashback stories.)

 


SPOILERS FOLLOW


 

Here's some of what I love about this story:

I love the unapologetic sexuality. I love the unusual form; I think it was somewhere around the third or fourth paragraph that I recognized that it's an inventory of the people she's had sexual or quasi-sexual experiences with. I love the slow build: the tiny easy-to-miss hint about what's going on at the end of the first paragraph (“I suppose I never will”), the phrase “End of the world” at the end of the third paragraph, and then the introduction of the virus in the seventh paragraph, which put me on fairly firm ground about the setting; and then the virus gradually becomes more central, and yet the foreground continues to be the list, the inventory—a life told in snapshots of a particular sort, with just enough information in each to let the reader guess what's happened in the spaces between. I love the vivid and poetic sensory details: “I felt like a drop of water was sliding up my spine.” I love the unremarked-on and unremarkable bisexuality. I love the small character details, especially the narrator's penchant for making lists, perhaps in part as a way to try to bring order to an increasingly chaotic world.

And I love the thematic stuff about human connection, which didn't come clear to me until the CDC woman says ”But the fucking thing is only passing through physical contact. If people would just stay apart—”

This was one of the last stories that I participated in selecting before I stepped down as a Strange Horizons editor, and I'm glad I got to help choose it; it was nice to get to leave on a high note.

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