Size / / /

This is the introduction to "Home by the Sea," by Pat Cadigan

I remember the 1990s as a world-is-running-down kind of decade; America, at any rate, felt to my 20-something self like a dentist's waiting room as the millennium drilled its way closer to us bored, jittery victims patients. Reading "Home by the Sea" (first published in 1991) recalled me instantly to a jaded '90s futility, a can't-shock-me atmosphere that spawned bands like Nine Inch Nails.

But with a Cadigan story, atmosphere is the least of it. No, there's always a philosophical kink. Cadigan is a master of simulacra-with-hairline-cracks: worlds that seem OK at first, but ain't. The darkness that crawls out of the crack in this story's particular simulacrum is concerned with contrasts—or rather, their lack. Everything here is in suspension, noncommittal. From its not-quite-single-yet-not-really-married-either protagonist to the almost-dead universe, nothing in this story can make up its mind what it really is.

It makes me queasy. Sea/sky, life/death, loss/gain—pick your dichotomy; pretty much all of them are blurred. The Dutch town where the story is set isn't even supposed to be there, just as the people in it aren't supposed to be alive. The land has been lifted up out of the sea and held there under pretence of civilization, and its inhabitants are similarly trapped between states. Waiting to die.

I like best stories that make me chase my tail, and this one has me galloping in delirious nihilistic circles. I happened to read my first Ballard in the mid-1990s and it's tempting to describe "Home by the Sea" as Ballardian, but I don't think that would quite grab what I'm after. Cadigan's work spikes the envelope of Ballard's alienation and penetrates, bloodied, into that sense of bewilderment and near-panic that underlies nightmare. And like a nightmare, this story can be read as a warning.

So what's the specific caution in the cautionary tale? Is it that a life where there is no possibility of death holds no meaning? Is it "don't look a gift horse in the fangs"?

Well, thankfully Cadigan is too good to hand out morals like fortune cookies. The meanings of her works are always a little druglike and sneaky. But if this story says one thing to me personally it's this: Pay attention. This is your life. Don't let it slip away, and whatever you do, don't let it be stolen. Pay. Attention.


Read "Home by the Sea," by Pat Cadigan




Tricia Sullivan is the author of seven science fiction novels, including 1999 Arthur C. Clarke Award winner Dreaming in Smoke, Maul, and Lightborn. For more about her and her work, see her website or follow her on Twitter.
Current Issue
2 Dec 2019

Winter has finally ended, and here you are, on the first day of summer, stuffing your pink feet into the sand.
By: Sheldon Costa
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Anaea Lay presents Sheldon Costa's “The Garden's First Rule.”
small bones / holding flecks of ash / rigid in her hands.
By: Mari Ness
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Mari Ness's “Gretel's Bones.”
Issue 25 Nov 2019
By: Nisa Malli
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Nisa Malli
Issue 18 Nov 2019
By: Marika Bailey
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Alicia Cole
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 11 Nov 2019
By: Rivqa Rafael
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Mary McMyne
By: Ugonna-Ora Owoh
Podcast read by: Mary McMyne
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 28 Oct 2019
By: Kelly Stewart
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Kelly Stewart
Monday: Aniara 
,
Issue 21 Oct 2019
By: Omar William Sow
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Amy H. Robinson
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 14 Oct 2019
By: Kevin Wabaunsee
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Ruben Reyes Jr.
Podcast read by: Ruben Reyes Jr.
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 7 Oct 2019
By: Charles Payseur
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Davian Aw
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 30 Sep 2019
By: Kali de los Santos
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Heitor Zen
Podcast read by: Julia Quandt
By: Sérgio Motta
Podcast read by: Sérgio Motta
By: Isa Prospero
Podcast read by: Solaine Chioro
Monday: 3% 
,
Issue 23 Sep 2019
By: August Huerta
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 16 Sep 2019
By: Marie Brennan
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Hester J. Rook
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Hester J. Rook
Load More
%d bloggers like this: