Group Read 27: The Big Book of Science Fiction
Story #73 of 107: “Passing as a Flower in the City of the Dead” by S. N. Dyer
“Passing as a Flower in the City of the Dead” by S. N. Dyer first appeared in Terry Carr’s Universe 14. Dyer’s real name is Sharon N. Farber and she has written a number of science fiction stories, but little else is known about her.
“Passing as a Flower in the City of the Dead” is a story about using an O’Neill space colony for patients with immune-compromised diseases and conditions. To complicate the plot, Dyer has her society resent people who voluntarily undergo the rigorous preparation to live in the colony just to be with an ailing loved one. They call these faithful partners Fidos. They hate them because they could return to Earth when all the truly afflicted know they can’t ever leave the colony. Madeline is a Fido, hiding her marriage to Henri, by pretending to have Lupus with complications just so she can stay with her husband.
I’d rate this story 3-stars and give it a plus (***+) because it’s a solid piece of science fiction I enjoyed. I liked how Dyer worked up a story setting and then developed a plot to fit it. However, even though it’s a good story, it doesn’t transcend. It was a good idea story, but I never felt emotion for Madeline or Henri.
For me, there’s a definite barrier between 3-star and 4-star stories. Of course, it’s subjective, and it’s relative. Each reader resonates with stories differently, but I think we all have buttons when pushed, will kick the story up to the next level. For me, it’s the immediate awareness that I’ll want to reread the story someday. Yet, that’s a rather vague way of explaining what I mean. What makes me want to reread a story?
A totally useless way to say it is to say stories that spark magic. Boy does that sound dumbass. It sounds like I’m Marie Kondo holding up a possession, to decide to keep or throw out. Yet, it’s about as definitive as I can get. Some stories just spark joy.
This story didn’t. It’s sparked, “That’s pretty cool.” And that’s often good enough. Most stories will never be ones we put in our “To Keep” piles. The mathematics behind that is realistic. I’ve read thousands of short stories, but it’s only practical to keep so many in my memory and heart. I often wonder about that number. Right now, it’s between 100 and 200, but I feel as I get older, it will fall below 100, and then 50, then 25, and finally, and if I’m lucky, I might remember a handful of favorites during my last days.
James Wallace Harris, 1/15/22