Wednesday, April 05, 2006

“Billy and the Fairy” by Terry Bisson [F&SF, May ‘06]

Posted by Trent Walters at 7:27 AM
A fairy visits Billy’s bed at night. The fairy says, understatedly menacing, that he visits to recruit for new angels in heaven.

Compared to its sister story, “Billy and the Ants” [Oct/Nov ‘05], this isn’t quite as tight: a little repetitive with the real Dad’s asking to clean up the leaves that the final “punchline”--a term not intended to denigrate what Bisson has done--loses its punch. Still, line by line, the brevity still shows stark contrast, creating Bisson’s characteristic spaces of meaning between the lines that cutting so ruthlessly displays. A beginning writer might spend a few evenings with Bisson’s various collections. Hell, any writer could. How these works uniquely untangle their plot knots is often the pleasure:

“My mother says fairies are make-believe.”

“They are,” said the fairy. “Real fairies are. I’m not.”

“I thought you said you were a real fairy.”

“I never said that. I’m really a fairy, but I’m not a real fairy. Real fairies are make-believe. I’m not make-believe.”


On the face of it, this isn’t a Mundane SF story. Well, it certainly isn’t SF, no matter how you slice it. But paired with “Billy and the Ants,” in which Billy attacks ants of increasingly larger size and whose ending is the reciprocal of the story under review, the canceling effect of their speculative conceits creates the friction against buying into every speculative conceit. Bisson may or may not have wanted this effect, but together and alone (assuming no further stories in this series), they represent a Mundane SF critical attitude toward the genre.

Here’s Trent’s sock puppet interview in which he pretends his sock puppet is actually Bisson himself (you can play along at home by putting an old white sock on your hand with two buttons stitched where your knuckles would be):

Trent: How come you don’t write Mundane SF?

Bisson Sock-Puppet [BSP]: Because it’s just too cool. You guys are way too cool.

T: Wouldn’t you like to be as cool as us?

BSP: Of course!

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