“You take a shortcut through the hydroponics bay on your way to work, and notice that the tomato plants are covered in tiny crawling insects that look like miniature beetles.”

WHAT CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Caroline M Yoachim’s entertaining response wins a Nebula nomination.

Aside from (presumably) winning the award for short story with the longest name (Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Days since Last Patient Death: Zero), this short story also wins the award for story I wouldn’t expect to find on an awards list. Not – I hasten to add – because it’s a bad story (it’s not), but because it feels like it was written for fun. Specifically, my fun. Well, the reader’s fun. It’s not all about me, obviously.

That said, I have an awful feeling what this says about me. After all, it seems to imply that I think short stories must have messages (hey, it does, sort of) and be Srs Biznis (ah, not so much). It may even imply that I don’t expect to have fun reading short stories. At the very least, it implies that I don’t expect fun to be rewarded. Excuse me while I take myself in hand.

OF COURSE READING SHOULD BE FUN. Right, good, now we’ve got that out of the way…

Welcome to the Medical Clinic is buckets of fun and I giggled all the way through. I remember reading Choose Your Own Adventure books with delight as a child (much to my Mum’s disgust – she’s a teacher), torn between trying to actually survive (ones I remember: a riff on And Then There Were None at a ski resort; a space disaster thriller) and wanting to know all the possible endings. Hell, I even downloaded a few story apps playing with the idea when I first got a smartphone. This format never gets old.

Caroline M Yoachim understands this all too well: constrained by a short story format, her tale is told in paragraphs listed A-Z rather than numbered pages, frequently breaking the fourth wall to let you know that she is both aware of the CYOA format and of the way in which readers interact with it.

The story is simple: you are bitten by a space bug; you get a rash; you go to the clinic for treatment; depending on your choices, things go rapidly and hilariously from bad to worse. Don’t expect deep insights into the human condition or a great deal of plot development (there’s room for just 26 paragraphs, complete with dead end loops for those actually playing along rather than reading it end to end). Do expect snark (aimed at both scifi tropes and the far-too-recognisable experience of medical bureaucracy), absurdity and frequent reminders that life is futile and nobody escapes alive. Least of all you.

Delightful.

***1/2

Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station can be read played online at Lightspeed.

Illustration by Reiko Murakami.