The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu is not Scifi

The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu is not ScifiThe Water That Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu is not scifi. Clever, maybe, but Hugo worthy?

There’s something clever about this story. Water that falls on you from nowhere…when you are fibbing. The conceit is the narrator is an in the closet gay, at least to his parents, and without the ability to lie to them since the water started falling, is faced with the conflict of how he is going to keep up the facade in front of his aged parents over the Christmas holidays when any lie he tells will be given away by…water, falling out of nowhere.

Clever, right?

Right. But science fiction?

John Chu won the Hugo this year for Best Short story with The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, and I don’t quite understand why. There is almost nothing that is even related to science in it. And, lest you argue that fantasy gets consideration for the Hugo, as well (just look at The Wheel of Time series, a Hugo nominee this year), let me just say that I’m not quite sure it falls well under that category, either. Maybe surrealism or, as I saw one person call it, “magical realism.” No, I’m not sure what that oxymoron means, but it sounds good, and feels about as good a label for this strange story as anything else.

So, anyway, it got the Hugo and I picked it up to read it, because that’s what people who like science fiction often do: they read the stories that the Hugo.

I finished it, put down my device (it was on my Kindle app), and scratched my head. Literally. “That’s all it takes to get the Hugo?”

There’s no accounting for taste, I suppose, but even in a year with a lot of controversy, I don’t see why this story won. It’s just not very good scifi. Clever, emotional even, but send it over to one of those literary houses for consideration and leave the science fiction to something that might be remotely recognizable as belonging to the genre.

The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere Book Cover The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere
John Chu
Magical Realism?
Tor Books
February 20th 2013

n the near future water falls from the sky whenever someone lies (either a mist or a torrential flood depending on the intensity of the lie). This makes life difficult for Matt as he maneuvers the marriage question with his lover and how best to "come out" to his traditional Chinese parents.

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.

  • FictionFan

    Totally agree. I couldn’t find a category for the story, but certainly not sci-fi. I only read a couple of the contenders and the other wasn’t sci-fi or fantasy either, but in my opinion it was a far superior story – ‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love’ by Rachel Swirsky. I’ve come back to sci-fi recently after many years away, and am struggling to find much contemporary writing that is sci-fi – most of it falls into either fantasy or, as you suggest with this one, whatever ‘magical realism’ is. I keep hoping I’m just looking in the wrong places…

    • FictionFan, did you read Brad Torgersen’s story that was nominated? The Chaplain’s War? I think you would find that one, as well as any others by Torgersen, squarly in the scifi category.

      • FictionFan

        Thanks for that! I managed to track it down, and agree it’s much more sci-fi than the other two. Still a bit more fantasy, perhaps, than ‘hard’ sci-fi but I think I tend to set the boundaries too narrowly. A good read though – I’ll keep a lookout for some of his other stuff…

        • FictionFan, have you read Andy Weir’s The Martian, yet?

          • FictionFan

            Yes! Absolutely brilliant! I loved it – two of my favourite things – sci-fi and adventure. And humour. One of the best books of the year for me, of any genre.

            I also liked Nancy Kress’s AI Unbound stories –
            don’t know if you’ve read them? Both more what I think of as ‘hard’ sci-fi, but I haven’t read any of her other stuff. Not that I completely object to fantasy – I’m just about to re-read Dune and see if it lives
            up to my memories of it…

            • I read Kress’s Before the Fall, During the Fall, and After the Fall, and all but hated it because of the heavy handed environmental fantasy message dressed up like science fiction. I’ve not been willing to pick up her books since.