Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A story for the political season

Eileen Gunn is the enormously talented editor of Infinite Matrix as well as a cracking good writer in her own right. Her newest book is the short fiction collection Stable Strategies and Others, and I just happen to be the lucky editor who is running Fellow Americans on RevolutionSF this week in observance of the train wreck known as the presidential election.
Fellow Americans featuring Tricky Dick, by Eileen Gunn

He raises his hands above his head in the familiar double V-for-Victory salute to acknowledge the applause, then gestures for quiet.

"Thanks for the hand, folks." His voice is deep, quiet, and sincere. "You know, I needed that applause today." A catch in his throat. "Right before the show, I was on my way down here to the studio...." He shakes his head slightly, as if contemplating the role that Chance plays in Life. "An elderly lady came up to me, and she introduced herself, and then she said, 'Oh, Dick, I'm so pleased to meet you, you know you were my all-time favorite presidential candidate...." He lets the compliment hang there a second, as if savoring it. "...after Jack Kennedy, of course."

The audience laughs, appreciating the host who can tell a joke at his own expense. When the laughter has diminished, but before it stops completely, he continues.

"Speaking of politics, why is everybody picking on Dan Quayle these days?" He looks from face to face in the audience, as if for an answer. "He hasn't done anything." An artful pause. "And, as I know from my own turn at the job, he probably won't get to do anything in the future, either." More laughter, stronger.

It is, of course, an alternate history, road-not-taken piece. Which, naturally enough, I'm fixating on at the moment with my own writing. But despite the obvious opportunity for cheap jokes and absurdity when dealing with an alternate version of Nixon, Gunn treats the material with a steady hand. Ultimately, the story mixes equal parts comedy and tragedy. Nixon had the potential to be one of America's leading presidents, but undermined all of his positive accomplishments with arrogance, hubris and paranoia. It's fitting that this story of an alternate Nixon be tinged with an air of sadness.

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