Reading for Fun: L. Timmel Duchamp’s Never at Home

By Nancy Jane Moore

Never at HomeTimmi Duchamp is probably best known as a writer of fiction with political and feminist content. Her five-volume Marq’ssan Cycle explores ways to change how postmodern societies work and she is the founder of Aqueduct Press, which has the stated goal of “bringing challenging feminist science fiction to the demanding reader.”

With that biography, it would be easy to overlook something else equally important about Duchamp: She has a profound imagination and a gift for finding the words to describe the things she imagines. Her new collection, Never at Home, provides readers with a wonderful opportunity to follow the paths set out by her imagination.

Not that these stories don’t have their political sides. But the politics is seamlessly interwoven with the inventive, giving us stories full of rich new worlds and compelling ideas. We get to exercise our sense of wonder and we get to think: What could be better?

The collection’s title comes from the final paragraphs of the first story, “Explanations Are Clear,” a heartbreaking love story that originally appeared in the superb anthology, Bending the Landscape: Horror. One of the characters in that story might be seen as “always at home,” but never is the more accurate word.

The story that affected me the most was “A Question of Grammar,” which originally appeared in Asimov’s. Here we have powerful, mind-reading aliens who are very alien, an unusual human child torn from her family because they subscribed to a different “grammar” than that of the human power structure, and trade. But the story is about how that human child finds her own place and her own moral choices — her own grammar — in universe that would prefer to ignore her.

“Tears of Niobe” also involves a child with unusual talents, one of the few survivors from a destroyed civilization. I love Duchamp’s unusual young girls, powerless due to circumstance and yet not powerless at all.

Then there is “Sadness Ineffable, Desire Ineluctable,” a long story in which a mathematician, a historian, and an opera singer explore an alternative reality that seems in every way more perfect than our own, but also very alien to it. The reactions of the three women to it are different, their desires are different, but they are still bonded together. It’s a complex story, both heartbreaking and joyful.

Some stories are distinctly science fiction; others clearly fantasy. But the science fiction is imbued with rich speculative description and worldbuilding, which gives it a fantasy feel, while the fantasy has a clear-headedness that might be more common in science fiction. And while many of the stories involve depths of suffering — even if some of their endings might be seen as happy — there is one funny story, “The Nones of Quintilis,” which has a unique take on reproduction. Then there’s “The World and Alice,” ostensibly a time travel story, but more one about human life told in segments of one woman’s experiences.

The last story in the book, “And I Must Baffle at the Hint,” seems such a take on the current state of the world (despite a fantastic evolutionary change) that I was surprised to find it was first published in 1995 in Asimov’s. But then, I have noticed that much of Duchamp’s earlier work presents such an accurate picture of what is going on right now that it frightens me more than a little. We may not get the aliens or the cocoons, but our civilization is falling apart in a very similar way, nonethess.

My only complaint about this book is that it does not include Duchamp’s brilliant story, “The Fool’s Tale,” which I think would have fit nicely with the others.

Duchamp’s voice is unique, and these stories combine imagination, elegant wordplay, and complex ideas like no others I have seen. I can’t recommend this collection enough.

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Flashes of IlluminationFlashes of Illumination, a collection of my short-short fiction, is now available here from Book View Cafe. This 52-story ebook collects the flash fiction I published weekly during the first year of Book View Cafe, and adds in a few later stories as well.

My novella Changeling remains available as an ebook through Book View Cafe. It’s a coming of age story.

Both books are $2.99 and available in four DRM-free formats: mobi, epub, prc, and pdf.

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Reading for Fun: L. Timmel Duchamp’s Never at Home — 4 Comments

  1. Thanks, Nancy– I’m so glad you enjoyed it. About “The Fool’s Tale”– I do think it would have fit the theme of Never at Home, but I’m saving it for a different collection (presuming I publish another one), of which I still have a story or two to finish.

    About the prescience in my fiction– it pains me to say that although the future is certainly wildly unpredictable, ever since my days as a historian, I’ve had an unfortunate penchant for extrapolating most pessimistic outcomes. But then in our culture, anyone who is a realist is by definition a pessimist. All I can say in my defense, is that I haven’t given up hope. Hope and pessimism, as a very famous political theorist once said, make excellent partners.

  2. Hmm. I guess that word didn’t need correcting after all. Perhaps it’s the font, but it’s striking my eye as weird– as being pre + science. Which it is, though because of the pronunciation I’d never noticed that before.

  3. I just looked it up (I don’t think I’ve ever thought about the spelling either), and both prescience and science are rooted in the Latin scienta, which means knowledge. So I guess it is pre-science in a way.

    Anyway, you certainly have a knack for it. I’m glad your pessimism is tempered with hope, though. I think I’m by nature an optimist, but these days it’s a bit difficult to find anything to be optimistic about.