Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Coming Across" by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is know for his alternate-history fiction, which, while not my thing, I have heard is quite good. So I guess that I shouldn't be surprised that, when I came across a fantasy short story by Turtledove that it would be highly focused on this type of speculation. In "Coming Across," Turtledove establishes a parallel world to ours that is inhabited by elves. The elves themselves are pretty interesting, actually, and it's clear that Turtledove has put a lot of thought into what an immortal race would really be like.

However, the true focus of the story is on a single elf that travels to our world in 1979 San Fransisco, and, after an affair with a man there, ends up contracting HIV. What follows is an exploration of how HIV would spread through the Elven community once he comes back, taking into account that elves had never previously really experienced sickness (or, at least sickness that they couldn't heal). It's clear that Turtledove thought a lot about this, and the results are fairly engaging, but I couldn't help but wonder what was the point. Okay, yes, it would be terrible for these elves if they contracted AIDS. But, I can't seem to figure out if Turtledove is using the plight of the Elves as some kind of metaphor or not. They're so fundamentally different from people that it doesn't seem like the story could serve any kind of allegorical purpose. Ultimately, it just seems like an exercise in "what would happen if," which is interesting, but kind of unfulfilling as a narrative.

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