Birthday Reviews: Joyce Thompson’s “Boat People”

Birthday Reviews: Joyce Thompson’s “Boat People”

Cover by Allen Koszowski
Cover by Allen Koszowski

Joyce Thompson was born on May 14, 1948.

Thompson has published several short stories, collected many of her early ones in East Is West of Here. She has published four novels, including the novelization of the film Harry and the Hendersons.

“Boat People” first appeared 1990 in Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine: Horror, the seventh issue, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Rusch also included the story in the anthology The Best of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine, published by St. Martin’s Press in 1991.

Thompson has produced an oddly confessional story in “Boat People,” albeit one with little fantastic element. Her narrator lives in Montana and is dealing with a mother who was once liberal, but is now older and averse to all the change brought into her life by a more diverse population. A generation behind her mother, the narrator sees the influx of Asian people as part of the aftermath of the Vietnam War, a war she opposed, but which left an indelible mark not only on her friends who served in Vietnam, but also on those who remained behind.

The narrator has survivor guilt for not having served overseas, and to assuage her guilt, she has taken on the task of working with veterans who are trying to capture their experiences on paper, offering her services as a published author to former soldiers who need the catharsis of writing about their experiences, no matter how bad the experiences or their prose. As she reads more and more of their memoirs, she takes on more and more of their memories, expressing regret that she wasn’t able to take a more active role in the war or the protests, and never fully understanding what they went through, but taking on their traumas.

A flash back in the story allows the reader to compare the narrator’s attitude towards Asian refugees, as shown through her interactions with the workers of a local convenience store, and the attitude of some of the soldiers who served in Vietnam, as she remembers a harrowing flight she took in which all the rest of the passengers were returning soldiers.

Reviewed in its original publication in Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine: Horror, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Pulphouse Publishing 1990.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Rich Horton

Pretty obscure this time, eh? My upcoming book will have a Kathleen Ann Goonan story — too bad it’s not out yet …

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