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Story Review: The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere by John Chu

illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal | image source: http://www.tor.com

The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere is the recipient of the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 2014. It is about Matt, a biotech researcher whose lover, Gus, proposes marriage to him after several years of being in a relationship. However, Matt comes from a traditional Chinese family whose parents expect him to carry on the family name and to give them a grandchild. Matt is an only son, and his older sister, Michele, wants him to fulfill the expectations of their parents. Matt loves Gus but because of his hardcore conventional family, he couldn’t find the guts to come out to his parents. To complicate matters, recently, water started to fall from nowhere whenever anyone, at anytime, utters a lie. As in, water would literally fall upon the person who tells a lie. If anyone hedges, or says something ambiguous, the air would thicken with humidity. As though the water were just waiting for the lie to come out before drenching the speaker. And if one tells nothing but the absolute truth, the air will be as clear and dry as can be.

I love how this story managed to fuse together convention, liberality, and science fiction. The setting is very recent – who hasn’t heard of the US Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex unions in all 50 states? – raised against ages-old traditions involving the Chinese family. And there’s the added weird element provided by the mysterious falling of water – distilled water, in all instances – upon any person who speaks a lie. It’s like the world and nature suddenly policing the humans, requiring nothing but truth to be spoken at absolutely all times.

It was easy to sympathize with Matt. He loves Gus with all his heart, but his conventional Chinese family would not allow his marriage with Gus, and it would break his parents’ hearts if he were unable to give them a grandchild to carry the family name. While he gathers the courage to come out and tell them the truth, his sister Michele prevents him, in her attempt to protect their parents. And Matt knows he can’t keep up the lies – not with the threat of a downpour literally looming over his head like a Damocles sword once a lie is out.

“Only your family loves you enough to tell you this.” Listening to her is like being pelted by rocks. “What can he possibly see in you? Dump him and marry a nice Chinese woman instead. Stay with him and he’ll cheat on you or dump you.”

Three words into her last sentence, I know what she’ll say. I leap to pull her pan away as I shut off the burner. The water that falls from nowhere drenches her and the burner where the pan was. Had the water hit the pan, the steam and splattered oil would have burned her.

So if you’re not up for a cold shower while fully clothed, be honest.

Rating: 5/5
Read the story here.

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