Wednesday, May 10, 2006

"Fireflies" by Kathe Koja [Asimov’s July 2006]

Posted by Trent Walters at 5:32 PM
Kathe Koja uses her experimental grammar to retell Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” That is, her couple talk completely around a subject (or two--one personal, the other scientific--the two being somehow linked). Koja's male protagonist, however, is the reverse of Hemingway’s brusque callousness in that this hers cannot control his emotions.

Koja's unnamed medical condition--not Hemingway's abortion, a taboo subject in his day, requiring circumlocution--involves a bandage on the female protagonist’s right arm which is presumably for the drawing of blood. Unfortunately, that’s not very informative since so many diseases require bloodwork. Whatever the ailment, it appears to be terminal, despite perhaps visiting Cairo for a second (third?) opinion. The discussion of expansion and effects like that of a stroke indicate perhaps a brain tumor. This mysterious "expansion," though, is not indicated around her brain but around her bandaged arm. Moreover, tumors are hardly taboo, so the medical topic remains unclear.

It may be that the situation is meant to stay ambiguous and, therefore, Koja does not care what the medical situation is. Something else is at stake. What that appears to be--since both insight into the science, expansion of the universe, and the medical condition remain unexplored--is a metaphor for male-female relationships, which may also be taboo and/or terminal.

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