Hwangs’ Billion Brilliant Daughters by Alice Sola Kim
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 3/5 Rating
Intriguing idea for time-travel
About the author:
Alice Sola Kim is an American writer. Her short stories can be found in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and Strange Horizons. “Hwang’s Billion Brilliant Daughters” was first published in Lightspeed in November 2010.
This was an interesting read that I found to be, surprisingly, very entertaining. It wasn’t the story or character, but the time-travel mechanism that held my interest. That fact that this story is listed under the “experiment” section is appropriate for than one reason.
Hwang doesn’t like to sleep. If he finds a time he likes, he tries to stay awake as long as he can – his record is 3 days. Hwang hope is to wake up one day when people are able to live forever or science has come up with a solution and people no longer have to sleep anymore. The reason Hwang doesn’t like to sleep is because every time he does, he travels into the future.
That synopsis up top is basically the opening paragraph of the story. I would go further into saying what the plot was, but there isn’t really a plot. And for that matter, this isn’t really a “story” here either. There was no direction to it, no rising or falling actions, no climax. Even the ending wasn’t really ending. This “story” felt more like a writing experiment than anything. Honestly, though? That didn’t bother me a bit.
The time-travel mechanism is that every time Hwang falls asleep he travels into the future. It could be a couple days, weeks, or years, and he has no control over it. When I think of using time-travel like that, numerous ideas pop into my head about the consequences, the mental effects, and different situations it could put that person in – and that’s exactly what Kim explores here.
The story is basically broken up into a ton of different paragraphs, each one from one of three story-lines: Hwang as he travels to various points in the future, background events of how Hwang gained this ability, and the narrator’s opinions and perspective on what is going on. There is no rhyme or reason as to why we jump around in their order we do (it’s not like we start at spot A and B, and as we see B go to C, we also see A go B). Really, it is just different events and possibilities that could happen to man who time-traveled when he slept – but it was great!
Each paragraph itself was almost like a brief outline for a story. One time Hwang travels in the past to see that people had all downloaded into computers, another time he discovers that science has altered the types of genders; or he wakes up to find all his loved ones dead, or he dreams of waking up to a time when no dies anymore so he can once again have a life. All of those would be a great idea for a story where a person falls asleep and wakes up in the future.
There is without a doubt a message that Kim is sending in this with Hwang’s story, but I had zero connection to Hwang. I still got the message, but It was the events and circumstance themselves that got my sympathy, not Hwang.
The only thing that really bugged me was the actual narrator. It didn’t make sense when they were talking, and when their identity was later revealed, it didn’t make much sense either… Again felt more like a writing experiment – a possible idea – to see how it could fit into a story.
Actually, if you read this interview with Alice Sola Kim in Light Speed Magazine (http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/nonfiction/author-spotlight-alice-sola-kim/) she talks about this short story.
Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)
One of the daughters is the narrator? But she knows his whole story and is watching himself? I don’t know. I like the idea of that being the narrator’s identity, but didn’t fit in right
If your comments contains a spoiler, please type “SPOILER:” at the start of your comment to alert fellow readers and comments. Thanks!
One more thing: It was pretty funny at times. Stupid, sarcastic, non-sense. Here are some examples:
“He thinks he has confirmation of this fact when he arrives at a time when everyone is green. (Don’t worry – there is still racism!)”
“Soon there are no more bananas. The iconic Cavendish banana, tall and bright and constant, has gone extinct. It is true that no one’s favorite fruit is the banana. But now that the bananas as he knew are gone…”
(Kim talks about those bananas in that interview, too) XP
In my opinion, Hwangs’ Billion Brilliant Daughters is a writing experiment in which Kim explores different possibilities and scenarios, and mental and emotional effects, a man who time-travels each time he sleeps could face. There is not much of a plot to this, and the way the story is told is a bit awkward, but I still loved seeing the different futures that Hwang faced, and different types of obstacles a person with that ability (curse?) would have to overcome.
Time-travel when you sleep is my favorite mechanism thus far! This is only 6 pages, and is totally worth the read.
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See you next Thursday for How the Future Got Better by Eric Schaller