Paradise In Strange Places: Susan diRende’s Unpronounceable

Who hasn’t daydreamed about running away from reality?  What if you were given the chance to visit a newly discovered alien planet?  Susan diRende’s Unpronounceable offers just such a taste of this delicious daydream.

Unpronounceable (2016) unpronounceable_pkd_award
Written by: Susan diRende
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 116 (Kindle)
Publisher: Aqueduct Press

Why I Chose It: When we here at Spec Chic decided to review the nominees for the Phillip K. Dick Awards, I couldn’t resist snapping this title up to review.  It looked like too much fun to pass up.

Premise:

Earth has discovered it is not alone in the universe. The aliens – pink, shapeless, and peaceful – are very nice, but after a string of failed diplomatic missions, they ask Earth to stop with the crazies and send someone normal. In frustration, the UN devises a lottery to pick the next ambassador. Enter Rose Delancy, a Jersey waitress with a grudge against pretty much the whole world. Rose is not happy about winning; she’s not particularly happy about anything. When she arrives on Unpronounceable – the planet having a name she refuses to attempt saying – she is nothing but rude to the Blobs, as she calls them, and they find it refreshing. She likes them; they like her. She settles in and starts teaching the natives all about junk food, movies, and sex.

There will be no spoilers.


Discussion: This is a short little novella that shouldn’t have taken that long to read. At only 116 pages, I should have been able to knock this out in two or three days. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most compelling tale I’ve ever read, which meant that this tiny little book took me much longer to finish than I care to admit.

Not that it wasn’t fun. It was highly entertaining. Watching Rose interact with the citizens of Unpronounceable was amusing. Rose was the first sensible person to arrive on Unpronounceable, per the Blobs (Rose’s word for the gelatinous, pink beings that inhabit the planet), because she requests food, sleep and all of the accompaniments that go along with such basic needs. Previous ambassadors were much more concerned with knowledge and diplomacy than they were with communication and sharing information about how humanity and thus human bodies work (which leads to some pretty terrible results).  By speaking plainly to the Blobs, Rose is able to succeed where previous diplomats failed.

Rose decides immediately that she isn’t even going to bother learning how to speak the Blobs’ language. As such, she begins naming the Blobs after people that she knows from her life back on Earth…and they aren’t always the most flattering names. Nevertheless, the Blobs remain enchanted by Rose and her bawdy behavior (among other things, Rose introduces the Blobs to such human wonders as kinky sex, junk food, and trashy movies). The story’s almost a wish-fulfillment tale of leaving Earth and all of its problems behind to start over on a strange little paradise.

Of course something goes wrong, and of course humans start to do what humans do, but I’m not going to spoil it for you. All comes to a satisfying and somewhat unexpected conclusion.

In Conclusion: I was refreshed and amused by this story, but not so much that I would unhesitatingly recommend it. As I mentioned before, I didn’t feel any great desire to finish the book, so I honestly kept forgetting that it was there in the face of newer, shinier books. It was a fun way to pass the time, Rose was entertaining, and she even grows by the end of the story. I just wish that there had been a little more depth to it. I honestly don’t know if I agree with this book being a worthy contender for the PKD award or not. There’s definitely a statement here regarding humans and their not-so-great natures, but given that it’s being filtered through Rose (a misanthrope who acts in the very ways that diRende seems to be critical of), the message becomes a little muddied. This is a fun read, but don’t come to it with the expectation that you will be moved in a profound nature.

5 Comments

  • Shara White April 4, 2017 at 10:29 am

    I read this review as it should very much be an enjoyable read, but I’m also wondering what about it stood out that it made the PKD ballot. Actually, I’ve been wondering that about all of the nominees that have been reviewed so far. It’s probably fitting that I’m reviewing the last nominee…..

    Reply
    • Casey Price April 4, 2017 at 11:42 am

      It was enjoyable, but it wasn’t particularly memorable. I don’t know that I would have nominated it. Frankly, I’d never heard of it before the nominees were announced.

      Reply
  • Lane Robins April 4, 2017 at 10:40 am

    This does sound interesting. But I wonder: what are the criteria for the PKD awards? I mean “distinguished science fiction” is all well and good, but there’s usually some sort of generalized type of distinguished science fiction. I wonder what these books have in common.

    Reply
    • Casey Price April 4, 2017 at 11:41 am

      I had to look up the PKD awards when I was writing this review, and I can’t find any common thread. All the website says is “Distinguished science fiction published in paperback.” And that’s it. I can’t tell whether or not they’re attempting to highlight works that haven’t gotten a lot of attention otherwise. That’s one possible theory?

      Reply
      • Shara White April 4, 2017 at 1:26 pm

        I think it is. I want to say, and I could be wrong, is that if a book was originally published in trade or mass market paperback, it’d be ignored by the Hugos and Nebulas, and so this award was born. However in recent years, trades DO get recognized by the Hugos/Nebulas, so that leaves mass markets as well as small and independent presses. Which is cool, but when nominating for awards like this (since it’s not fan driven), having a healthy knowledge of those that came before would be good. I have a bad feeling about this year in comparison to previous years.

        Reply

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