Fat Girl in a Strange Land, Part 1

A couple weeks ago I went to Boskone.

Jane Yolen was there. I haven’t read all that much of her work–I read Briar Rose and I’m pretty sure I’ve read some of her short stories in anthologies. (While at Boskone, I got a book called Once Upon a Time (she said) that is, according to the jacket, “a collection of more than 80 stories, poems, and articles by Jane Yolen”.) She was on one panel called “When Underpinnings Come Unpinned” (the others on the panel were Jeffrey A Carver, Don D’Ammassa, Myke Cole, and F. Brett Cox) that spent some time talking about dystopian fiction and how it can have a sad ending vs.a (limited) happy ending. Apparently she’s not too impressed by WALL-E. At least not the way fat people are portrayed, or the “little green shoot” ending–I don’t remember the exact word she used to describe it, but she seemed to think it was trite/cliched/sappy.

I also found a book called Fat Girl in a Strange Land, “an anthology of fourteen stories of fat women protagonists traveling to distant and undiscovered realms”. The title obviously references Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, but I keep wanting to call it “Fat Girl in a Strange World” because of the almost-rhyme of “girl” and “world”. The cover pictures a woman whose body is very similar to mine. Maybe slightly smaller breasts, and thighs that are slightly less curved out in front. (Although, it’s weird: both the shape of the woman and the shape of the book seems stretched out to look wider on my monitor. Subjective?) So far I’ve read the first four stories.

The first one, “La Gorda and the City of Silver”, was… I guess I’d say good but not memorable, besides the fact that the main character is fat and accepts her body. The publisher here is Crossed Genres, and maybe they mean that not only do they mix fantasy and science fiction, but also “real world” stuff. I guess the main character is almost like a superhero, albeit a Batman-style superhero with no superpowers–otherwise, it’s not really science fiction or fantasy. Except it’s set in Guatemala and I know little about Guatemala–maybe there’s something in the description of the city that makes it obvious that it’s set in the future to people who are more familiar with it.

The second one, “The Tradeoff”, I found more interesting but also somewhat problematic. The protagonist and her crew are all formerly-thin people who have gained weight in preparation for a journey to another world. Their job is to prepare it for human habitation. Why didn’t they just choose fat people to begin with, you may wonder? (I did.) Well, that’s simple: there are no fat people. Which made me think, “What kind of dystopia is this?” but I’m not even sure it’s supposed to be a dystopia. I get the feeling there may be overpopulation or food scarcity based on reference to food rations, but it’s not spelled out, and I don’t think that overall it’s supposed to be a dystopia, despite the food scarcity.

The explanation for the lack of fat people: “When everyone is restricted to standard rations, fat people are an anomaly, a symbol of excess from decades long past.” That’s it. I’m pretty sure that that wouldn’t work to get rid of fat people, if it’s really a “standard” ration. People differ in their caloric needs, and some fat people can get fat on much fewer calories than expected. Rations would make some fat people thin (one of the ways genes can make you fat is by increasing your appetite), but in order to make fat people “an anomaly” I wonder if your rations would be so meager that many people wouldn’t be getting enough to stay healthy. And then there’s the whole “symbol of excess” bit. Well, our culture has been making fat people symbols of excess (or symbols of whatever they feel like) for a while now, why should it stop in this world?

There is one part that suggests the rations may be for fat people’s own good, rather than the result of food scarcity: “As my waistline expanded, it was increasingly difficult to get people to concentrate on what I said, instead of what my body looked like. And being a woman just made it worse. Until this mission, I didn’t realize how important a milestone standard rations were for our society.”

There’s some interesting stuff about the work they’re doing on the planet, but mostly, this story is about the protagonist’s inner turmoil, and particularly her hatred of her new body. (The other characters don’t seem to react the way she does: “I can’t tell how much the weight bothers the others–they laugh and joke like the people they were before.”) If you find descriptions of self-hatred triggering, you may want to stay away from this story.

The third story, “Cartography and the Death of Shoes”, was sort of a poetic, dream-like story about going to another, more interesting world. Among the features of the other world is a lack of fat hatred or particular attention to body size. The protagonist likes maps and “murders” shoes–she has trouble making shoes last very long and has to put up with people asking her, “How do you manage to ruin so many pairs of shoes yet stay so big?” There’s little plot, but I like the language. Here’s a sample:

It’s Friday night and the city is a heart that beats alone, despite the millions of blood cells that race through its dog-legged arteries, oblivious to each other yet performing a life-sustaining dance.

You’re near that street and the city’s blood parts around your feet, leaving you as an island.

You’re tired of being part of this blood dance. The immune system has been trying to excise you as diseased for as long as you can remember, but you’ve been tenacious, clinging to walls and floors as the torrent pushes you around.

The fourth story is called “Survivor”. I think I might like this one best. It’s about a girl who is the sole survivor of a crash on a world that gets very hot during the day. She must travel 35 kilometers (~22 miles) in seven hours, on foot.

Wen’s borrowed comm pinged. Four hours to sunrise. Four hours until the witchlight above her head gave way to the burning white orb that would blast her with heat and radiation until she was nothing but a memory.

Four hours to live.

She shoved the comm back into her pocket, stood up straight, and started to run again.

Well, jog, anyway.

It was the best she could do.

I can’t hold it against the author too much that the protagonist isn’t a good runner. Fat people certainly can run, but fat definitely does impact your speed, and I for one am an inbetweenie/small fat who can only jog, unless we’re talking about less than a minute at a time. For a while when I was seriously working on running, I did get faster, although even then I was doing about a 3-mile distance and a 12-minute mile pace–respectable, but not impressive. I’m trying to restart running after getting peroneal tendonitis and deciding to take a break from it to focus on other activities. I guess she was doing <19-minute miles–I don’t know if I’d be able to keep up that pace for 22 miles.

Ugh. Tangent. Anyway, I liked this one. This is sort of a push-your-limits-triumph-over-adversity story, and I liked the protagonist’s struggle between pessimism–“I’m going to die”–and determination to try to survive–“I can do this”.

There are ten more stories, so hopefully in the near future I will review some more of them. How many parts there are will probably depend on how quickly I read them.

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2 Responses to Fat Girl in a Strange Land, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Fat Is Not a Fairy Tale | closetpuritan

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