Published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Vol. 46, Nos. 9 & 10. September/October 2022 issue, pp, 82-103.
Why You Might Like This Story
One Night Stand is the story of a date gone wrong. It’s not a happy tale, but it IS a story of how someone who is down and out can persevere and try to overcome. If you liked Eileen Gunn’s Hugo-nominated story, Stable Strategies for Middle Management, you will be drawn into One Night Stand by a similar theme (an unfairly-treated woman who pushes back in a novel way) and another double meaning in the title. Mixed into One Night Stand is some realistic self-examination and snapshots of how challenged families can still work.
This story is highly engaging! A word of warning: the story contains graphic sexual violence, presented as dispassionately as possible. After reading it, you might think twice if you sometimes hook up with edgy strangers.
Genre: One Night Stand is speculative fiction. You could split hairs over whether it falls better in a supernatural or science fiction genre, but that distinction is unimportant. It is a strong, well-executed, engaging story, and Asimov’s published it. They are not worried about the genre difference; we should not be concerned either.
Point of View and Immediacy: The central character, Terry, tells the story in the first person. Except for a few brief flashbacks, the narrative is situated entirely in the present. The effect of this POV in an as-it-is-happening setting is to put readers in the action. Readers feel the same desires, fears, and uncertainties as Terry.
Tone: Sampaio-Hackney describes Stable Strategies for Middle Management as Kafka-esque, with menace placed behind innocuous phrases. One Night Stand is as dark, but its tone is more situation-based and up-front. Given its heavy subject matter, it is surprisingly matter-of-fact due to the present setting and the narrator’s conversational tone.
Premise: The death scene in One Night Stand is necessary because it sets up the rest of the story which Terry continues to tell after her death – an amazing premise, effectively executed.
I would not presume to speak for your possible reactions to the rape and killing scene. This subject matter can evoke traumas and fears that I have not experienced. Gunn is clearly aware of the risks in such a scene. Her solution is to treat this action with some distance, even though it is told in the first person, in the present tense, from the perspective of the woman being attacked. It is an account of the event – told almost as reportage. The scene follows a pattern – he does this, so I do/feel this…so he does this, so I do/feel this. Gunn’s presentation choices are fascinating and, from my point of view at least, she writes this scene in a way that presents the necessary events but minimizes the horror. Of course, the horror of such a scene can never be eliminated.
I picture Gunn writing this scene and thinking to herself, “How can I make a victim-perspective rape and death scene safe to read?” Maybe I am biased, but it seems that only in writing speculative fiction is this kind of problem-solving possible or needed!
Characterization: Another way that Gunn minimizes the horror in the death scene is by writing Terry as a hardened, matter-of-fact narrator. Because she is detached (literally from life by the end of this scene) readers are allowed a detached point of view too. We still root for her as she works from the afterlife to save her daughter.
For me, one thing that helps make One Night Stand real is that Gunn included some minor, seemingly-well-adjusted male characters. I would lose belief and disengage if all the male characters were maladjusted – YMMV. On the other hand, if all the men in the story were evil or losers, maybe that would make it more Cohen-ish or Kafka-esque? Thoughts on this would be appreciated.
Overall, Gunn has done a great job of taking a fantastical idea and making it believable and compelling. Her first-person, real-time narrative draws us into Terry’s struggle and doesn’t let us go until the end – or in this case, well after the end.
To read this story – Visit your local library or search for back issues of Asimov’s Sep/Oct 2022 issue. I am sure One Night Stand will also make it into an anthology, or several of them.
Eileen Gunn Website – https://eileengunn.com/
Eileen Gunn on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/eileengunn/
Matt Sampaio-Hackney, Description and Analysis of Stable Strategies for Middle Management – https://themenaceofobjects.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/eileen-gunns-stable-strategies-for-middle-management/