Group Read 27: The Big Book of Science Fiction
Story #61 of 107: “Standing Woman” by Yasutaka Tsutsui
“Standing Woman” by Yasutaka Tsutsui was first published in Japan in 1974. Since it’s a protest story about freedom of speech, I have to wonder what politics was like in Japan back then. The VanderMeers said in their introduction, that Tsutsui was Japan’s answer to the New Wave and compared his absurd stories to the writings of Sheckley, Spinrad, and Vonnegut. “Standing Woman” was more wistful than funny to me, although, a tale about people being converted into trees for complaining about the government might have been culturally amusing back in 1974 Japan. The tone of the translation reminded me more of Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian.”
This story still works as a gentle story about a sad man, a writer, who misses his wife after she’s been planted. He risks punishment himself by talking to the human trees. His wife warns him not to, but he can’t help himself.
However, the sting of Tsutsui’s protest is no longer there for me. Like the Bradbury story protesting not being able to stroll after supper in a world taken over by cars and highways, “Standing Woman” is no longer seems relevant. I imagine much of the satire of Saturday Night Live will be dissipated in fifty years too.
I’m beginning to have trouble with my rating system. Normally I’d rate “Standing Woman” with ***+, meaning an average story that I liked. But if I don’t keep explaining my code, people will interpret it in different ways. However, the code was mainly meant to help me remember. I’m torn between keeping it for myself, and wondering what confusion it might cause.
For an absurdist tale, “Standing Woman” was likable enough. But in terms of seeking stories from the past that I consider worthy of discovery, then no, this doesn’t work for me. I could say: Good, but unwanted. But that might sound harsh or unkind.
In the past, I’ve thought of only writing about stories I love. But then I started this project to review all the stories from The Big Book of Science Fiction for our Facebook group. I’ve decided that was a mistake. I’m going to finish what I’ve started, but my current belief is I shouldn’t mention a story I don’t love unless it inspires me to write about a specific issue it brings up.
For now, maybe I should just say: Good, but not loved. Or maybe: Liked, but not loved. And that might be closest to what I’ve been struggling to put into words for all these essays. I’m constantly searching for stories to love but seldom find them. Why waste time writing about stories I don’t love? Do readers of this blog really want to know that? When I read blogs and reviews I respond to ones that enthusiastically praise a story. That makes me go read them. Anything else said is quickly forgotten.
James Wallace Harris, 12/20/21