“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, written by the Dutch novelist Thomas Olde Heuvelt and translated by Lia Belt, is the only no-slate story in the three Hugo short fiction categories. It got on the ballot after a story by the ever-present John C. Wright was disqualified due to previous publication.
Published in: Lightspeed magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams
I was pleased that a Lightspeed story made it. It’s a very good magazine that won the semiprozine Hugo last year, after all, and it has published some pretty awesome fiction in 2014 as well. I’m quite sure I nominated two stories from the magazine for the Hugos, plus the whole magazine in the semiprozine category, plus the editor John Joseph Adams in the editor category.
I don’t read absolutely everything LS publishes, though, and Olde Heuvelt’s story was new to me. Naturally, I had some great expectations. Too bad this story let them down.
The title summarizes what happens in the story: up and down switch places and gravity starts to pull everything away from Earth. In this surreal environment, the protagonist tries to get back to his loved one who, unfortunately, doesn’t love him back anymore. He takes great pains to return her goldfish to her, and he meets a number of characters on his way.
There are some scenes in the story that are pretty evocative, but as a whole it’s too surrealist for my taste. Most of the encounters don’t really add anything meaningful to the story. Even though Heuvelt uses some edgy and interesting literary devices (comparing the man with the goldfish, having same lines in discussion between different characters etc.), there’s no depth. It’s just play with not enough storytelling logic, and I failed to enjoy that.
However, it’s nice to have a truly unpleasant protagonist for a change, and I do like the ambiguity of the fact that he repeatedly acts immorally because he is madly in love. After reading some reviews, it seems like some anglophone readers are struggling with the character, complaining that they found him unsympathetic and not someone they could root for. Well, no shit, Sherlock. That was the point.
Without the protagonist, I would have rated this work quite low, but he manages to raises the score for a couple of points. Still, there are better stories, and stories with a better grasp of goldfish biology.