The Ugly Chickens
and talented, Howard Waldrop has been one of science fiction’s
great treasures since his first story was published in the 1970s. His
fiction has earned him a steady flow of nominations and award wins.
If he is obscure, it is because he works for the most part in short
lengths. He has just two novels to his credit, the most recent one 33
so many works to choose from, which of Waldrop’s stories to pick?
“The Ugly Chickens” seemed like a safe bet; the setting is
comfortably mundane and it won both the Nebula and World Fantasy
Award, as well as garnering nominations for the Hugo, the Locus and
the Balrog. I’ve been wrong before; what did the Young People
that's was science fiction. That is, fiction about science. No flashy
future tech, no space or time travel, set in the past (probably
present when it was written). Just a what-if story about a scientific
oddity. This brings to light that the "science" in the
science fiction I've read is almost exclusively physics. Rarely
chemistry, never zoology.
an interesting tale about the process of tracking down a lead.
Similar to journalism stories about traveling the world to strange
backwoods places in search of confirmation for hearsay.
story sets it's sights low enough that it maintains a plausibility
even now decades after publication that science fiction rarely holds
onto, or even achieved in the first place.
story was low on action and high on stream-of-consciousness. Which is
not necessarily a bad thing. Except in this case, the stream of
consciousness reads like the fever dream of a Moby Dick academic who
won’t shut up after you politely asked what their field of
doesn’t help that reading this story reminded me of English
literature class in university. Specifically, I felt like I needed a
class of lecture and discussion just in order to understand and
research the relevant American history and world history references.
Those are both areas where I lack knowledge. Plus, terms like “sleeve
blotters” tripped me up – which I am normally fine with looking
up myself (it’s like a fun treasure hunt), but combined with the
opaqueness of references, it made the story less enjoyable to me
because I knew I was missing a lot when I read it. E.g. What exactly
does he mean when he says he feels like Oedipus in speaking to Annie
this story is intended to be enjoyed for the atmosphere of another
world—like how Huckleberry Finn can be enjoyed for the sense it
gives you rather than the specific meaning of everything – then I
did not get that sense.
will say that the story did a good job portraying a sleep-deprived
student in their mid-20s chasing after academic prestige. That part
seemed quite accurate.
remember being fascinated by the idea of dodos as a kid. Perhaps this
was written during a time when many people were fascinated by dodos,
but now it seems a little stale.
the fragment sitting in The British Museum, this award-winning story
is disappointing when actually observed up close.
hate the narrator of this story. The entire time I was reading this I
just wanted it to be over. I found the narration and the character
extremely irritating, and I wanted him to fail because I dislike him
don’t think I would have particularly enjoyed the story with a more
likable narrator. I’m not generally a fan of this style of story
anyway, but it didn’t matter because I was pretty much done by the
third paragraph. I found the narration style grating, and disliked
his attitudes and his actions. This is a very long story to read when
you’re hating it the entire way through.
think the story felt like it could be intended as a period piece
written recently. If I didn’t know going in that this was an old
story, I don’t think I would have been able to tell. Saying that, I
can’t figure out what’s supposed to be speculative about it. It’s
maybe alternate history, but it doesn’t feel particularly like
science fiction to me.