Nebula Shorts: A.T. Greenblatt – And Yet

Fourth one on the list is a science fiction story with an overt haunted house setting from Uncanny Magazine. Written in the second person, Greenblatt’s story puts you in the head of scientist, specifically a physicist researching parallel universes and how they might intersect with ours. They (or rather ‘you’ to use the pronoun of the text) have returned to your home town to visit the local house that as a child was reputed to be haunted — something which you know for a fact is true.

“This is a terrible idea. Your hand is clenched around the doorknob and you’re listing all the valid reasons you should walk away.
And yet.
If you’re right, you could be onto the greatest scientific discovery in quantum mechanics. Ever. And if you don’t make it out again…”

https://uncannymagazine.com/article/and-yet/

Following a familiar structure of using an overt ghost story setting for a character to revisit childhood trauma, we learn of the two events connected with the house that shaped our character. The first: a childhood dare from a group of false friends, an attempt to get you to step alone into the infamous haunted house. The second: your younger brother in a terrible traffic accident on that same day, as he snuck off in an attempt to visit the haunted house with you.

The story borrows heavily from horror but sits more happily within science fiction. The house we are told from the start is a natural phenomenon rather than haunted in the supernatural sense. It is haunted by trauma though and the central character must re-live terrible moments from her childhood to accomplish her goal which is both professional and personal.

Writing in the second person is hard to make work. There is a strong plot reason why it is used here and at least initially, it’s use feels like the central character trying to talk themselves into doing the inherently scary thing.

Running isn’t an option for you, never was, between the leg braces and the muscles that just don’t want to cooperate. Even with the cane, your footsteps are loud and obnoxious. It will definitely draw your ex-classmates’ attention and for some reason you can’t quite articulate, you do not want to draw their attention.
But you can’t stay here forever. You won’t.

https://uncannymagazine.com/article/and-yet/

But, I’m afraid this really didn’t work for me. Being inside the head of the protagonist could, in theory, given more intimacy to the fear and determination of the character. However, instead I felt like all the mystery and horror of the setting was gone from the beginning. The story essentially announces from the start that this is actually a scientist visits a temporal-spatial anomaly story with the trappings of a Steven King-ish haunted house story. In the process it doesn’t quite manage to do either well.

Oddly I found the second person more distancing from the character. I’d rather not have heard their thoughts but have learned more about them and who they are as they progressed. As it is what we learn through the story is more focused on events in the past than who the character is.

Nicely written and cleverly imagined but I just didn’t connect with it as a story.


12 thoughts on “Nebula Shorts: A.T. Greenblatt – And Yet

  1. Second person seems to be a trend nowadays, but like you said, it’s really hard to do well. This story is on my longlist, but if I was voting on the Nebulas, I certainly wouldn’t put this over the Clark story.

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  2. I found the premise of this story very interesting, but like you I was a bit frustrated that it wasn’t written as a mystery, and I wasn’t really moved by it. But it left me wanting to know more about the person and the events of their life, so it can be considered successful in that sense.

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      1. Upon further reflection, I think the fact that there were infinite universes really eliminated the sense of something being at stake. Even if she finally managed a good outcome in one universe, it wasn’t going to keep her from the knowledge that there were many other universes in which the outcome was awful. I guess that imparted a sense of futility for me.

        So I would call it a good story, but not a great one.

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  3. I hate both second person and present tense. Together, they make my brain scream in anguish. I will not try this one. 😛

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  4. Second person shifts the experience of immediate viewpoint from say a conversation between reader and pov narrator in first person to a more ritualized “you are this person’s viewpoint” sort of relationship. You are not viewing the display of a camera, you are the camera. It also creates a particular type of rhythm to the narrative that is deliberately slow but intense. Best one I’ve ever read is Stewart O’Nan’s novel, A Prayer for the Dying, which is a quite wrenching historical story.

    Sounds kind of interesting, the story. I like the idea of a house everyone wants to be haunted instead being a doorway to multiple universes.

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    1. The best second-person narrative I’ve read is Iain Banks’s Complicity. The second person has the effect of making you, the reader, feel complicit — it’s really well done. Most people who use this style don’t really have a reason for it — they just want to be trendy. (Oh, and the first Broken Earth book had an explanation for second person too, which you found out at the end.)

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  5. So now only the 2 I liked best are left.
    Yeah that one didn’t quite work for me either. I asked myself if I had reacted better, if I had read it first, but I did read it 4th, and the other 3 were “I relly like that.” “Wow” “Sweetspot”, so when the 4th story hit nothink of that, I was a bit disapointed.
    Newertheless it is not a bad story.

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  6. This made my personal longlist, so I must have liked it. There’s something about it though that doesn’t quite seal the deal, leaving it frustratingly close to a great story. I think it’s something to do with how it plays with the language of a horror story, which forces it to be a bit oblique just when it needs to explore the parallel universe concept more clearly?

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