Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Short Fiction Month: Crying in the Rain - Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee was a prolific British author of novels that moved all over fantasy, science fiction and horror. When she passed away in 2015, I looked into her bibliography for WWend.com and added a lot of her work. Until now I have never read any of it though. Her most prolific and commercially successful period was in the 1970s and first half of the 1980s. Crying in the Rain appeared at the tail end of that phase of her career. It originally appeared in 1987 in the anthology Other Edens edited by Robert Holdstock and Christopher Evans. As far as I know it is not connected to any of Lee's other work.

In a toxic post-apocalyptic world, a young girl lives with her mother and younger siblings outside the dome that shelters the wealthy from the worst of the hostile environment. One day her mother takes her into the dome. It is a day she has seen coming for quite a while. She will be sold to one of the rich men in the dome. Her mother groomed her for this moment for years. The experience will make the young girl see her mother's harsh ways and strict upbringing in a different light.

This must surely be the saddest story I read in ages. In a few short pages Lee creates a bleak world where life is short, and often ends in a painful death. It does not contain an explanation for what happened or even very many details of the every day life of the main character. The author still managed to convey enough of the girl's world to make it completely convincing and thoroughly heartbreaking.

The choices her mother makes for her are horribly unfair. Her looks will be enough to allow her to have a comfortable, although probably still short, life. Which is more than the mother has herself. Prematurely aged, she is in a hurry to see this task completed. Her methods are calculating and cruel, and the relationship between mother and daughter strained. It is the best of a bunch of poor options however. The daughter's gradual realization of what was done for her and the shift from fear, caution and sullen anger to respect and even affection are what really make this story tragic.

The way Crying in the Rain was written makes it a downright painful read. The reader cannot fail to respond to the tragedy that unfolds on the pages. It is a brilliant exploration of how far the will to survive will push a person. Mix in the tendency of children to look back on their parents' decisions with more understanding than they felt when the decisions were made for them, and you end up with a very powerful story indeed.

Story Details
Title: Crying in the Rain
Author: Tanith Lee
Language: English
Originally published: Other Edens, edited by Robert Holdstock and Christopher Evans (1987)
Read in: The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (2016)
Story length: Short Story
Awards: None
Available online: Not that I am aware of.

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