Group Read 27The Big Book of Science Fiction

Story #78 of 107: “The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things” by Karen Joy Fowler

This is my third time reading “The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things” by Karen Joy Fowler, first published in the October 1985 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction. It’s another science fiction story about memory, so it’s interesting to compare it with our last story, “Snow” by John Crowley. In that story, a man remembers his dead wife, in this story, a woman remembers her dead boyfriend. We should make a list of all the ways science fiction is used to play with memory.

In 1970, Miranda dumps Daniel a boyfriend she’s in love with because he’s being drafted. He dies in the Vietnam War two years later, and for thirty years Miranda has felt guilty. Especially, because she intentionally broke up with Daniel because she feared what the war could do to him.

The story takes place after Miranda is a grown woman, and her son is older than Daniel when he died. She goes to an experimental therapist, Dr. Anna Matsui, who uses induced lucid dreaming to get her patients to confront their inner demons.

I’ve been obsessed with memory my whole life, and even more so since I’ve become old my memory has begun to fail. When I was young I used to play around with lucid dreaming. So this story resonates with me strongly.

Miranda meets Daniel in her dreams twice under the control of Dr. Matsui. The first time is a satisfactory encounter according to Dr. Matsui, and she wants it to be the only dream session. Daniel had forgiven Miranda, and that was enough to work with Miranda in regular therapy. However, Miranda begs to go again, but things go badly. Dr. Matsui refuses to put Miranda under again. Up till now, the dreams are based on how Miranda remembers Daniel, from their time at college.

However, Miranda induces her own lucid dream at home, and she meets Daniel at Camp Pendleton, and they argue even more. This time Daniel tells her how he killed a young boy thinking the boy had a hand grenade but didn’t. These are experiences that Miranda could have never known. We have to wonder is she learning something real, or if this is her mind playing tricks on her?

Her final dream with Daniel happens in Vietnam, and Miranda tries to keep Daniel from killing the boy and getting killed himself. Everything is realistic, and Miranda is experiencing things beyond her imagination. This time she tries to stay with Daniel as she sees a bomb fall from the sky, but Daniel tells her to go. He tells her he never wanted that. While she pulls away from the scene she sees Daniel and other soldiers die.

I spotted something different this reading. At one point Daniel tells Miranda she could never know what it was like to have the draft hanging over her head, or getting a low number in the draft lottery because of her birthday. This time I wondered if Karen Joy Fowler is writing the story for all women who felt guilty about not going to war in Vietnam. The two times I read the story before, I saw it only as Miranda’s personal story. But now I wonder if Miranda is all of us who didn’t go to Vietnam. That makes it a much more powerful story.

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James Wallace Harris, 1/25/22

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