“Brushwork,” by Aliya Whiteley

“Brushwork,” by Aliya Whiteley.
Novella. Published in GigaNotoSaurus, May 2016.

This is the first time on the new site we’re discussing a story that’s novella-length and novella-scope! (And if you like longer, weightier fiction, GigaNotoSaurus is well-worth your time.)


Charles Payseur goes into this story at length:

It is not exactly a happy sort of story, nor a short one. It is an experience, though, appropriately weighty and dense with a fully realized world (all contained inside an insulating dome). Drifting through age and love and loss and struggle, the story doesn’t offer any easy answers, but it certainly knows what questions to ask.

This is a complex, long, and emotionally gripping story about the power to resist and the power to comply and the prevalence of violence and privilege and loss. About how everyone has their own views of what happens to them, and that everyone is the hero of their own story, and the victim too. And it’s also about fruit. About stewardship. About growing things.

On File770’s “Novellapalooza,” JJ is of a similar mind:

This is an incredibly uncomfortable story to read right now, because the main theme is echoed repeatedly throughout the narrative: just how willing will people be, to make the moral and ethical compromises which throw their co-humans “under the bus” – as long as they think that they themselves will benefit? Just how large does the possibility of personal reward have to be, before human beings will choose to be complicit in sacrificing others — and then to look the other way when the inevitable happens? This is a moving and powerful story, and it is on my Hugo Novella longlist.


What did you think of “Brushwork”? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

3 thoughts on ““Brushwork,” by Aliya Whiteley”

  1. The choice of protagonist here is one of the things I find most interesting. Payseur makes a really good point here – Mel is a protagonist whose only desire is to opt out. The story doesn’t feel slow by any means, but looking back, Mel is an astonishingly non-active protagonist for such a long piece.

    When you examine the story, Mel is the POV not because of what she does – which is really very little, I think – but because of who she is; what she’s done in the past. Her job is primarily to see the faults of all the other players – and to demonstrate the near-complete lack of alternatives; the lack of agency that remains when all your options suck. And her background kind of lets her do that without feeling cowardly or hypocritical — because, by saving children, she’s already demonstrated her determination and capability; and by acknowledging (however uncomfortably) that her own privilege has played a role even in such a tragic life, she’s too self-aware to wallow in hypocrisy.

    It’s interesting. And, IMHO, very well done. Pulling off an “all our options are awful; all the sides are wrong” effectively is really hard, and I think Mel’s character is part of what manages it very very well.

  2. Slightly scattered thoughts: my surface impression of this story was that it reminded me – in setting and tone – of something like The Survivors or Doomwatch (70s UK TV shows), or perhaps John Wyndham. The very low-key, rather depressing tone, the post-apocalyptic setting, etc.
    Taking such a passive character, determined to do nothing, and making them understandable and having their eventual action still feel in character, takes some skill.

  3. I found this a miserable slog, to be honest, and kept checking my position in the scroll bar to see how much of it was left. I could try to analyze it beyond that, but I doubt there’d be much point– I just found it an unpleasant read.

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