Sometimes you just need a story that makes you laugh out loud repeatedly, no matter where you are. Even if you’re in a library. (This was perhaps not my wisest choice of reading venues.)

This also came as a surprise. The subject matter is the poetry of Emily Dickinson, told as a non-fiction paper about two newly discovered poems. And I know almost nothing about Emily Dickinson aside from the “Because I could not stop for death” line. I still found this hilarious. Consider the third paragraph, discussing the new poems:

The sheets of paper on which the poems were written are charred around the edges, and that of Number 272? has a large round hole burnt in it. Martha Hodge-Banks claims that said charring and hole were caused by “a pathetic attempt to age the paper and forgetting to watch the oven,”* but the large number of dashes makes it clear they were written by Dickinson, as well as the fact that the poems are almost completely indecipherable… It is argued that Number 712 actually begins, “Because I could not stoop for darts,” and recounts an arthritic evening at the local pub.

*Dr. Banks’s assertion that “the paper was manufactured in 1990 and the ink was from a Flair tip pen,” is merely airy speculation.**

**See “Carbon Dating doesn’t prove anything,” by Jeremiah Habakkuk, in ‘Creation Science for Fun and Profit’, Golden Slippers Press, 1974.

In this world, H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds really did happen, with the martians invading in more places than just Britain. (The author proposes her next paper will be titled: “The Green Light at the End of Daisy’s Dock: Evidence of the Martian Invasion in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.”)

This paper argues that the poems prove that the martians also made a landing in Amherst, where Dickinson lived, and that she was instrumental in fending them off. That the invasion was in 1891 and Dickinson died in 1886 is no impediment: Wells describes the martians making enough noise to “wake the dead” and the author chooses to take this literally. Besides, there’s a good chance the martians landed in the cemetery itself. The author visited and found many tombstones awry or fallen over.

It’s all ridiculously silly, and the use of footnotes makes the piece dense with jokes, incongruities and surrealities. Well worth seeking out.

Connie Willis was my fourth week teacher at Clarion West 2012, and this post is part of the 2013 Write-a-thon. See here for more details.

The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective by Connie Willis

Availability: print

Word count: 3,000

Awards: Hugo Award winner

First published: Asimov’s, April 1996

Where to find it: War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, 1996, Bantam Spectra

This is my Funniest: Leading SF Writers Present their Funniest Stories Ever, edited by Mike Resnick, 2006, BenBella Books

The Winds of Marble Arch and other stories, collection, 2007, Subterranean Press

The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories, collection, 2013, Del Rey / Ballantine

Time is the Fire: The Best of Connie Willis, collection, 2013, Gollancz

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