SH Flashback: “The Red Bride,” by Samantha Henderson

A new entry in my almost-weekly-again Strange Horizons retrospective:

The Red Bride,” by Samantha Henderson
A bedtime story told to a human child by an alien slave. (Published in 2010.) (1,800 words.)

The story of the Red Bride is a slave's tale in slave speech, which I do not generally hold in my head around humans lest my face betray me, so I must shift words around from one meaning to another like stones on a reckoning-board, each stone taking meaning from a square where another stone was a moment before.

(See also the full list of Flashback stories.)

(I'm still behind on posting Flashback stories, but if all goes well, I'll catch up next week.)




I love the gradual revelation in this, as we come to understand step by step what's going on. (And I feel like gradual revelation is particularly hard to do well in such a short story.) And I love the small ways that the protagonist's character is gradually unveiled as well. I can imagine a story with this story's general form and plot that would consist simply of the protagonist telling a story and then at the end saying “Oh, and by the way, that story was an analogy and now we're going to kill you all,” the end; but I think this story does a much better job than that hypothetical one, by providing a great deal of nuance, subtlety, and even pathos in a compact space.

I'm also intrigued by this story's use of analogy, suggesting human analogies as a way to make alien concepts accessible for both the human-child listener in the story and the real-world reader. Something about the flavor of those analogies reminds me of “The House Beyond Your Sky.”

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