“The Venus Effect,” by Joseph Allen Hill

Lightspeed, December 2016
Lightspeed, December 2016

“The Venus Effect,” by Joseph Allen Hill.
Novelette. Published in Lightspeed, December 2016.

I’ve chosen this story based on Abigail Nussbaum’s strong recommendation:

It’s not an exaggeration to say that stories like this one are why I keep doing this, rooting through hundreds of short stories on the off chance of happening on one, by an author I’ve never heard of, that completely blows me away.  I don’t want to say too much about “The Venus Effect”‘s plot, both because it’s a surprise worth preserving, and because to describe the story is to make it sound like so much less than what it is–too academic, too gimmicky, too preachy.  This is a story about stories, and about who gets to be the hero in the core stories of our genre.  It shouldn’t work–the tack Hill chooses should come off as glib, and the structure he comes up with should devolve into repetition–and yet, amazingly, it does.  If there’s one story on this list that I’d like you to read, “The Venus Effect” is it.

If Nussbaum wants us to read it, then read it we shall!


What did you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

1 thought on ““The Venus Effect,” by Joseph Allen Hill”

  1. Hmm. Well. Hmm.

    One of the fundamental insights of privilege is, that having privilege can drastically alter your everyday situations, experiences, and considerations — and that the privileged person can be unaware of the disparity, since extrapolating from their own lived experience is so misleading.

    Hill does something rather brilliant here – pivoting that observation onto the “everyday,” not of reality, but of fiction. As Nussbaum says, it seems like it should be gimmicky – but it’s startlingly effective in its aim. The “everyday” of cliches and tropes are familiar and well-worn. Meanwhile, the drama of fiction propels Apollo urgently into harm’s way, in a way that could conceivably be avoided in reality (or could be argued as such).

    And this shifts the discussion towards a less visceral, more subtle direction: not the more-familiar “a black person can be killed without cause,” but rather “the heroics of fiction are predicated on doing things that would be horribly dangerous for black people to do.” It’s a very different tack, though obviously very related, and it’s its own type of tragedy.

    All that being said… I feel like this didn’t work for me as a story. The point is crystal clear from the very first iteration. Repetition is necessary to make the point – the structure wouldn’t really work if one or two iterations were all there was – but there’s no progression, and none is expected. So… it feels like there’s a fantastic, effective idea here, and yet the result is more of a demonstration of an idea, than it is a story.

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