So Book Smugglers is back to publishing original fiction. Last time it was retold fairy tales and now the theme is First Contact. Only one story a month, but that's fine by me. Gives me a relatively short reviewing day, which can be nice. And the story this month is quite interesting in terms of form and structure, told as a questionnaire. Really Book Smugglers just continues to show that they have a good eye for fiction and for stories that push boundaries. They might be relatively new as a fiction market, and might have a fairly small output, but they are definitely a place to watch. So let's get to it!
"Application for the Delegation of First Contact: Questionnaire, Part B" by Kathrin Köhler (1430 words)
This is a story that does some interesting things to form. It is just what it says it is, a questionnaire designed to test someone's qualifications for being a...space diplomat. It asks questions about identity, about narrative, about being an outsider. It takes into consideration all sorts of different ways of existing. It's novel and interesting in part because it does so much world building within this limited structure, that the story is really about the world in which this application exists while also drawing the reader into the roll of character, into the roll of applicant. It is short in some ways, because the actual word count would mean that this is a flash fiction, but at the same time the questionnaire feels long, feels like it takes a rather slow and thorough look at this set of issues. Really the story is about the tools required to empathize, about what would be required for someone to initiate healthy and successful first contact with alien cultures. It's about seeing that truth and reality are somewhat stretchy, that they change from culture to culture, that the very ways that people define themselves vary from culture to culture. Though the questionnaire is supposed to be for people seeking a role in first contact with alien cultures, it works just as well with people looking to engage in first contact here. On Earth. Because every day there are chances of first contact. Meeting new people, experiencing new things, and each of these is a meeting of worlds. It's great that the questionnaire is actually a form that can be completed and submitted. That it's designed to be taken. To be attempted earnestly. It's not an easy set of questions to answer. But the prompts do take the reader deeper into their own selves. I'd be interested in seeing how people choose to answer this. Probably that would be too difficult given rights and all, but I think it would be neat to see. Because then the story would be a piece of collaborative fiction between author and secondary author/reader. Quite interesting stuff and well worth a read.