Birthday Reviews: Connie Willis’s “D.A.”

Birthday Reviews: Connie Willis’s “D.A.”

Cover by James Gurney
Cover by James Gurney

Connie Willis was born on December 31, 1945.

Willis has won the Hugo Award eleven times and the Nebula Award seven times. Her joint winners include the short story “Even the Queen,” the novelette “Fire Watch,” the novella “The Last of the Winnebagos,” and the novel Doomsday Book and the two-part novel Blackout/All Clear. Her Nebula only wins were the short story “A Letter from the Clearys” and the novelette “At the Rialto.” Her Hugo wins were for the short stories “Death on the Nile” and “The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective,” the novellas “The Winds of Marble Arch,” “Inside Job,” and “All Seated on the Ground,” and the novel To Say Nothing of the Dog. Her novel Lincoln’s Dreams won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. To Say Nothing of the Dog also won the Prix Ozone, Kurd Lasswitz Preis, and Ignotus Award. Doomsday Book also won the Ignotus and Kurd Lasswitz. Willis won additional Ignotus Awards for the stories “Even the Queen,” “Why the World Didn’t End Last Tuesday,” and in 2000, her stories “Nonstop to Portales” and “Chance” tied each other.

Willis won the Forry Award from LASFS in 1999 and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2011 she received the Robert A. Heinlein Award from the Heinlein Society. She was named a Grand Master by SFWA in 2012. Willis was the guest of honor at LACon IV, the 64th Worldcon, held in Los Angeles in 2006 and served as Toastmaster at the 2011 World Fantasy Con in San Diego.

“D.A.” was written for the anthology Space Cadets, published in coordination with LACon IV, the Worldcon, in 2006 where Willis was guest of honor and edited by Mike Resnick. It was selected by Jonathan Strahan for The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume One and was also reprinted as a chapbook by Subterranean Press in 2007. In 2018 it was included in the Connie Willis collection Terra Incognita, published by Del Rey.

In the distant future, Theodora is a high school student whose goal is to get into UCLA, unlike most of the students in her class who hope to get an appointment to become a cadet at the Academy to go into space. Unfortunately for her classmates, only 300 people are selected for the Academy each year, so when one of the students at Theodora’s school is selected, it is a major event and a mandatory assembly is held. To everyone’s surprise, Theodora is announced as the lucky appointee, despite the fact that she never applied and didn’t go through the interview process.

The strongest points of the story are when Willis looks at Theodora’s attempts to figure out how she managed to get into the Academy and get acclimatized, or fight against getting acclimatized, to life in outer space. Her only lifeline and support is her friend Kimkim, back on Earth and using her prodigious hacking skills to open a line of communication with Theodora and try to help her work her way through the Academy.

Willis also injects her typical screwball comedy touches into “D.A.,” which rear their head whenever Theodora tries to talk to anyone except Kimkim about her desire not to go to the Academy. She is constantly interrupted and nobody listens to what she says, a recurring theme in much of Willis’s work. While this type of humor works quite well in the cinematic screwball comedies made by Preston Sturgis or Howard Hawks, it doesn’t translate as well to the written page.

Reviewed in its original appearance in the anthology Space Cadets, edited by Mike Resnick, SCIFI, 2006.

And so the journey begun on January 1 with a review of E.M. Forster’s short story “The Machine Stops” has come to an end, 367 reviews and approximately 166,183 words later, plus a few extra guest reviews and words by Rich Horton and Bob Byrne. There was one date I couldn’t find someone to review (we need authors born on March 8) and I goofed on a couple of authors and wound up writing replacement reviews. Edward Page Mitchell holds the joint distinction of the earliest birth among the reviewed authors, on March 24, 1852, and the earliest published work, with his “The Clock That Went Backward” published in 1881. Rachel Swirsky in the most recently born author reviewed with Steve Perry’s “A Few Minutes in the Plantation Bar and Grill Outside Woodville, Mississippi” published in January 2018 being the most recently published story.  I reviewed two stories entitled “Cat” and two stories entitled “Little Red in the Hood.”

I think I’ll go reach a novel for a change of pace.

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 “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.

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Rich Horton

An embarrassment of riches again! (Not, I trust, an embarrassment of Riches!)

Besides Connie Willis, an excellent choice, you could have picked any of:

Junot Diaz (not much if any short SF/F, though)
Charles Oberndorf
Susan Scwhartz
Cecelia Holland
Nathan Ballingrud
Joe Abercrombie
Robert Grossbach
or the great Bob Shaw!

And that’s not even mentioning Ellen Datlow!

Seems to me lots of people wanted to make sure of their early tax deduction!


Thank you, Mr. Silver, so much for the birthday review series. I can’t imagine the work and preparation that went into the series.

I enjoyed that didn’t go for the most famous works of the birthday writer. I liked the spotlight on the more obsure stories.

Kudos to you sir.

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