Group Read 27The Big Book of Science Fiction

Story #91 of 107: “Two Small Birds” by Han Song

“Two Small Birds” by Han Song is a beautiful story that I admired for the writing and imagery, with many sentences that I twanged my heartstrings, especially, “I’m shocked to smell the flavor of olden days.” There’s not a moment that crawls by that I don’t feel that.

But here I go again being a little pissant. I don’t believe “Two Small Birds” is science fiction, or at least I don’t want to believe it. I’m not sure what label to give this story, but somehow I feel it’s unfair to shanghai every beautiful work of the fantastic and force it to sail upon our great clipper ship the Science Fiction. This is another case where I believe like their mentor Judith Merril, the VanderMeers want to uplift the genre by claim jumping other folks’ goldmines.

Now I will have to defend my position by going all verbose on you. Sorry about that. Let’s start with the simplest way to make my case. We make generalizations and classifications to find an agreement on what we’re pointing at with our words. Even though they are very similar, we like distinguishing between dogs and cats.

Nowadays anything that mentions anything that has the slightest whiff of science fiction gets slapped with the label science fiction. We need more labels. More precise labels. I saw an interview with David Brin the other day, and he came up with a lovely label, “speculative history.” Science fiction has become too trendy, too broad. It’s a monopoly that needs to be broken up.

I don’t have a label for “Two Small Birds,” but I don’t want to use science fiction for the job. I already have a lifetime of reading that uses that label, and this story is not really like those stories.

This reminds me of a book I recently read, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language by David W. Anthony about determining the location of the culture that produced the Proto-Indo-European language. Somewhere in pre-history, there exists a proto-fantastic-storytelling form that is the mother of all the genres. And like English, German, Spanish, etc. share elemental sounds from the Proto-Indo-European, science fiction, and whatever we should label “Two Small Birds” share common story elements that are similar, but they are as different as English and Italian.

I’m also reminded of the book I’m reading now, The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow who argue against singular generalizations about human societies in pre-history because they certainly took a myriad of forms. And every shaman, guru, seer, witch-doctor, medicine man, mystic, astrologer, came up with a different creation story to explain reality. Out of thousands of years and countless refined perspectives we created science. It’s a very precise label. That makes it useful. I believe science fiction has a similar distillation from all the proto-fantastic storytelling forms, and we could make it precise too. We could if we tried.

“Two Small Birds” reminds me of Carlos Castaneda, Bob Dylan, Walt Whitman, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and a certain work of Thomas De Quincey, among many others. You wouldn’t call any of those dudes science fiction writers, would you? And I will admit there are lines in “Two Small Birds” that sound science fictional. I just don’t think it fits into the taxonomy of how we should classify science fiction.

Now, I will admit things are evolving, and language is never static, and it appears that younger generations want to slap the Sci-Fi label onto any kind of strange story they love because they feel the genre should be all-encompassing. But I say it’s valuable to have a word other than calling every creature an animal because sometimes it’s important to distinguish a giraffe from an elephant.

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James Wallace Harris, 2/15/22

2 thoughts on ““Two Small Birds” by Han Song

  1. “The Dawn of Everything” is biased disingenuous account of human history ( ) that spreads fake hope (the authors of “The Dawn” claim human history has not “progressed” in stages, or linearly, and must not end in inequality and hierarchy as with our current system… so there’s hope for us now that it could get different/better again). As a result of this fake hope porn it has been widely praised. It conveniently serves the profoundly sick industrialized world of fakes and criminals. The book’s dishonest fake grandiose title shows already that this work is a FOR-PROFIT, instead a FOR-TRUTH, endeavor geared at the (ignorant gullible) masses.

    Fact is human history has “progressed” by and large in linear stages, especially since the dawn of agriculture ( ). This “progress” has been fundamentally destructive and is driven and dominated by “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” ( ) which the fake hope-giving authors of “The Dawn” entirely ignore naturally (no one can write a legitimate human history without understanding the nature of humans). And these two married pink elephants are the reason why we’ve been “stuck” in a destructive hierarchy and unequal class system (the “stuck” question is the major question in “The Dawn” its authors never answer, predictably), and will be far into the foreseeable future.

    A good example that one of the authors, Graeber, has no real idea what world we’ve been living in and about the nature of humans is his last brief article on Covid where his ignorance shines bright already at the title of his article, “After the Pandemic, We Can’t Go Back to Sleep.” Apparently he doesn’t know that most people WANT to be asleep, and that they’ve been wanting that for thousands of years (and that’s not the only ignorant notion in the title). Yet he (and his partner) is the sort of person who thinks he can teach you something authentically truthful about human history and whom you should be trusting along those terms. Ridiculous!

    “The Dawn” is just another fantasy, or ideology, cloaked in a hue of cherry-picked “science,” served lucratively to the gullible ignorant underclasses who crave myths and fairy tales.


    1. Oh no, I just started The Dawn of Everything and now you’ve spoiled the ending!

      Just kidding, I know there aren’t spoilers in nonfiction. I’m just at the beginning of the book and don’t know what they are going to say, so I can’t reply to your comments, but you certainly don’t like the book. However, I’m guessing you don’t like their book for political reasons, something I’m not going to get into. I do think it odd that you’ve chosen my review of an old science fiction short story to rant about a current bestseller. I only mentioned it because the story reminded me of one thing mentioned in the book. My piece was about a Chinese science fiction story.

      I suggest you visit sites actually reviewing The Dawn of Everything to find people who could argue your points with you.

      By the way, David A. Bell’s piece in Persuasion is a well-constructed critique of the part I’ve read. I’ll keep that in mind as I read the rest of the book.


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