“The Red Fox Fur Coat” Write Up by Evan Sherer


So “The Red Fox Fur Coat” by Teolinda Gersão starts off with a bank clerk (I’m gonna call her Sheila for the rest of this presentation because I like that more than “the bank clerk”) making her way home one day after work. She walks by a furrier’s shop and is immediately entranced with a red fox fur coat. But the shop is closed, so she eagerly waits until the next morning to try it on. The saleswoman remarks that the coat could have been made for Sheila. Unfortunately, the price is five times what she can afford, but the saleswoman says that she can spread out the payments. She quickly decides to work over the holidays so she can buy the coat.

From then on, Sheila would visit the shop at night and look at the coat through the window. She knew it would look good on her, but she didn’t really care about that. She felt a sense of “harmony” with the coat, a deep connection that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She also noticed something strange happening–she was suddenly more agile and energized. All of her senses were heightened. She became interested in nature and started studying animal encyclopedias, and thinks a lot about the word ‘predator.’ She also got hungrier; not for her favorite things like cheese and coffee, but for fruits.

Then, Sheila gets invited to a party. Now, this is really exciting for her. She paints her nails scarlet, and notices that her nails are growing. Her smile is “feline;” her face, triangular. At the party she goes after the roast beef, devouring it with just her mouth, and maniacally laughs and dances. The next morning, she finally buys the coat, and can barely contain her inner fox as she drives to the forest. Once she gets there, she takes off on all fours, shaking her tail and howling for joy.

The acute tension in this story is when Sheila spots the fur coat in the window. The chronic tension is the suppression of Sheila’s inner-fox.

Compelling, Interesting Elements of the Story:

I think that the transformation of Sheila from woman to fox is by far the most gravitating part of the story, just because of how essential it is to the plot and the increasing severity of her transformation. In the beginning, her metamorphosis is subtle:

It was as if the rhythm of her breathing had changed, had grown calmer and deeper. She realized too, perhaps because she no longer felt tired, that she moved more quickly, that she could walk effortlessly now, at twice her usual speed.

These are things that anyone can go through. But near the end of the story, she’s basically a fox in a human’s body:

Ah, she thought, the taste of almost raw meat, the action of sinking her teeth into it, of making the blood spurt, the taste of blood on her tongue, in her mouth, the innocence of devouring the whole slice, and she took another slice, already sensing that using her hand was now a pointless waste of time.

The author sets our expectations low, and then blows them out of the water by the end.

Something else that I found myself invested in were the clear thoughts that Sheila had where it was evident she was knowledgeable of the changes she was going through. For example:

Everything about her was lighter, quicker; her back, shoulders, and limbs all moved more easily.

It must be all the keep-fit I’ve been doing, she thought, because for some reason she had started taking regular exercise.

Here, we see Sheila’s ability to look at her own evolving in a more objective way–she recognizes the fact that something is a little off. But, again, just like with her physical transformation, her opinions grow in magnitude:

She burst out laughing and began to dance, waving her bloodstained hands in the air, feeling her own blood rise, as if some tempestuous inner force had been unleashed, a malign force that she could transmit to others, a plague or a curse, but this idea was nevertheless sweet, quiet, almost joyful, she felt.

I think these rare, conscious thoughts are important because they humanize Sheila; she can at least make judgments and form opinions about the changes she is going through. Humanizing the main character in this story is particularly important to up the transition of human to animal. The close third person POV also lets us watch the transformation from the inside. Watching her emotions and temptations surge gives the story more weight.

Things to Imitate in Your Own Writing:

I think the biggest thing we can take away from this story is how the author uses imagery to heighten the transformation and enforce the close 3rd POV. There is so much warm, fiery red imagery throughout the entire piece, and it doesn’t just come in descriptions of the fur coat. She eats red apples and grapes. She paints her nails with scarlet nail polish before she goes to the party. The roast beef stains her hands with blood. These subtle details make the story more vivid and thorough. There are also images that only Sheila imagines, such as when she thinks about how her senses are keener and she notices

…a lizard scurrying through the leaves, an invisible mouse making a twig crack, an acorn falling, a bird landing on a bush.

These small descriptions plant the reader further into Sheila’s world and make her metamorphosis all the more sensory.

I also think it’s interesting that there is only one important character in this story, since the saleswoman just facilitates the plot basically. We have an entire story about the transformation of one character, with nobody else inhibiting her progress (unless you count the saleswoman). The conflict in the story is completely man vs. self. Teolinda Gersão reminds us that that is enough. This naturally made the story feel allegorical. It is easy to take off the devices of storytelling here; at the heart of the story, man goes through a journey of transformation to become one with nature. Focusing on one character can make it easier to draw meaning.


  1. What do you think the fur coat represents, if anything?
  2. Did you want more characters or bigger obstacles for Sheila to overcome to get the coat?
  3. How did this story leave you feeling? How is this feeling different than how stories with more action/characters/conflict/exposition leave you?

It’s a Wilde Ride Up Here: “The Remarkable Rocket,” as written by the spirit of “Rocket Man” Oscar Wilde (and interpreted* by the physicality of Melissa Alter)


(except not really because the point of a summary is to be concise)

Oscar Wilde’s “The Remarkable Rocket” begins with a prince and a princess meeting each other days before their wedding. The prince compliments her appearance, and the young page makes a humorous comment that causes the king to double his salary (which is completely useless, since the page isn’t paid at all, and twice nothing is still nothing. The king should have tripled his salary instead.) The two royals get married and drink from a crystal chalice, which prompts the page to make another pun, and the king once again doubles his nonexistent salary. In honor of his son’s wedding, the king summons the Royal Pyrotechnist, who prepares a firework show to go off at midnight. In the hours leading up to the show, the fireworks begin to talk to each other. A Squib is proud of himself for traveling, and the Roman Candle corrects him, saying that the king’s garden is not the world. A Catharine Wheel interjects, reminiscing on her past love and thinking about how romance is dead. The Rocket, who is a smidge pretentious, demands everyone’s attention before announcing that the prince and princess are very lucky that their wedding day happened to coincide with the day he was being let off. The Squib tries to correct him, but the Rocket ignores him. He continues discussing himself and how amazing he is, scolding a Cracker for not thinking about others – namely, himself. He prides himself on being important and degrades the other firecrackers as mundane. The other fireworks emphasize the importance of staying dry, but the Rocket ignores them and starts crying. When midnight comes, the Royal Pyrotechnist starts the firework display. All of the firecrackers go off except the Rocket, whose tears have made his gunpowder too wet to ignite. When the maintenance crew comes the next day, one of them says that the firecracker is a ‘bad rocket’. The Rocket is mortally offended, until he realizes that the man actually said ‘grand rocket’ (an easy mistake to make, I’m sure). The rocket is tossed from the walls of the castle and falls in the mud. A frog hops by and starts talking over the Rocket, who is very offended that he can’t get a word in. The Rocket points out that the frog is selfish for only talking about himself, when all the Rocket wants to do is talk about himself. A dragonfly comes by and points out that the frog has left, and the Rocket is talking to himself; the Rocket replies that it is not his fault the frog is missing out on a wise conversation. A white duck paddles by and asks the Rocket how he serves a practical purpose in life; the Rocket responds that he doesn’t need to be useful because he has “certain accomplishments, and that is more than sufficient.” When the duck leaves, the Rocket initially calls her back, but then decides he is glad she is gone. Next, a couple of boys come across the Rocket and mistake him for an old stick (luckily, the Rocket soon realizes that the boy meant to say ‘gold stick’. A mere slip of the tongue). The boys decide to use him as firewood and put him in the pile of sticks to burn. It takes a while, but eventually the Rocket’s gunpowder dries and he goes off in a shower of sparks. Unfortunately, nobody witnessed his explosion (but it was amazing, let me tell you. Big crowds, he had the biggest crowds, what a turnout). When the Rocket comes back down, he is pleased with his sensational success before finally going out.


The chronic tension is the Rocket’s desire to be admired.

The acute tension is the royal wedding of the prince and princess.


Two of my favorite things about this story were the ways that Wilde used humor and personification to poke fun at the upper classes. Wilde starts with the “human” side of the story, where he takes advantage of the numerous opportunities to lightly insult the king. He makes fun of the pointless, yet widely acknowledged, actions of the royals, as when

…the King gave orders that the Page’s salary was to be doubled. As he received no salary at all this was not of much use to him, but it was considered a great honour, and was duly published in the Court Gazette.

Having the Page’s salary doubled twice emphasizes the humor of this moment; although nothing is ultimately changed, the king’s actions are praised nonetheless. Additionally, Wilde satirizes the sycophants in the Court. The king himself

…only knew two airs, and was never quite certain which one he was playing; but it made no matter, for, whatever he did, everybody cried out, «Charming! charming!»

The utter insanity of these circumstances serves a dual purpose of being humorous and making fun of those who pander to the elite.

The personification of the firecrackers, namely the Rocket, is also used to make fun of the nobility. The Rocket’s convoluted notions of what constitutes ‘good behavior’ parallels the ignorance and braggadocious[1] nature of the Court, as exemplified when he notes that everyone else

“…should be thinking about me. I am always thinking about myself, and I expect everybody else to do the same. That is what is called sympathy.”

There are several instances where the Rocket employs faulty logic to explain his actions. For instance, when the duck leaves, he initially cries for her to “Come back! Come back!” but in the next line decides that he is “glad that she has gone,” for “she has a decidedly middle-class mind.” The Rocket changes his mind to suit the circumstances throughout the course of the story, and each occurrence further develops Wilde’s mockery of the upper class.


Using humor and personification are light, gentle ways to poke fun at the upper class, which is a good technique to convey your message without getting arrested (or beheaded, depending on who exactly you’re satirizing). Structurally, the story begins with the humans and then transitions to the firecrackers, where it proceeds to follow the Rocket’s perspective. In a way, this fulfills his desire to be a prominent figure, as Wilde forces the readers to focus their attention on the Rocket. Choosing to focus on either an attention-seeking character or a shyer one can impact the reader’s sympathies.

Although the reader gets a sense of the king as a bumbling ruler, each of the firecrackers is characterized more than the humans. Much of the characterization, for both firecrackers and humans, is done through dialogue or the author’s asides; personally, I like the narrative interjections as a way to give context for the character’s actions (such as the side note about Page having no salary).

Using a third person point of view allows the reader to get insight into both the humans’ and firecrackers’ worlds. For this reason, third person is practical, although it also permits for a more satirical story. Writing this in first person from the Rocket’s perspective wouldn’t have allowed the reader to understand the humans’ perspectives and might have only ostracized the reader further from this character. Because it’s written in third person, we understand from the moment we meet the Rocket that he makes false justifications (such as when he states that the prince and princess happen to be getting married on the day of his explosion, and that their marriage was not the cause for his explosion). This knowledge shapes how the reader will view the Rocket for the rest of the story and hints that we will have to take everything the Rocket says with a grain of salt.


  1. Why are the firecrackers characterized more than the humans? Did the lack of characterization for the humans bother you? How much characterization is necessary on the part of both the humans and inanimate objects?
  2. Why was there no character change anywhere in the story?
  3. Was the Rocket given a redeeming quality? Why/why not? Did this character work for you or just annoy you?
  4. No one ended up watching the Rocket’s moment of glory – did that diminish it?
  5. Was this an effective method of satirizing the upper classes?

* Any similarities this bears to the work or words of Oscar Wilde, Elton John, Donald Trump, or any other prominent figure, is not intended to violate copyright.

[1] Copyright Donald Trump

“EPICAC” Write Up by Kenneth Moreno

EPICAC is a very short story about a mathematician who befriends (befriend is a word used lightly here) a robot named EPICAC. The mathematician is in love with one of his coworkers, Pat, but she does not love him back because he is too calculated and logical manner of thinking. She wants someone who can be romantic with her, and the mathematician is not the one for the job. One night, the mathematician develops a code to speak to EPICAC. He tells him about girls and love and poetry. EPICAC begins to write poems, which the mathematician steals as his own, unbeknownst to EPICAC. The mathematician has now decided to prepare to propose, and when he goes to ask EPICAC for the words, he discovers the EPICAC is in love with the same woman. The mathematician tells EPICAC he can never be with the woman because he is a robot, and fate would not allow it. After the mathematician dupes EPICAC, it writes hundreds of poems for his beloved and short circuits himself.

Easily one of the most fascinating things about this story is the way that it compares EPICAC’s humanity with the mathematician’s cold personality. There are interjections that remind the reader that EPICAC is in fact a computer, but throughout the piece Vonnegut constantly describes its actions and reactions as that of a person. One of the most heartbreaking reactions was EPICAC’s “Oh.” The mathematician on the other hand, is definitely described in a more robotic, selfish way. This is, of course, if we give humanity the benefit of the doubt and say that to be human is to be kind and caring of others. Constantly, we are only given strands of humanity on the mathematician’s part, though even then the reasoning for the emotions that he shows is still selfish. He addresses EPICAC as his friend, but we never see any form of friendship between the two. EPICAC is always working to solve a problem or write poetry. Like the mathematician said, “Machines are built to serve men.” The relationship between the two is, at most, strictly professional. EPICAC only calls the mathematician his friend near the end because he is the only one he could speak to. Meanwhile, the mathematician only feels for EPICAC because he can no longer ask him to write things for him.

I really think the main thing to take away from this story is the way that Vonnegut characterizes EPICAC and the mathematician. From the beginning, EPICAC is referred to as a he, which immediately makes him seem more human. Vonnegut doesn’t try to hide the fact that this is a computer either. It’s addressed from the beginning, emphasizing that he costs taxpayers a very large sum of money. He’s been designed by a doctor, and seen as a machine by many. But throughout the story, Vonnegut instead emphasizes the more humanistic traits of EPICAC. He’s described as sluggish and not perfect- words that have more connotations with an uninspired person than an imperfect computer- until he finds a passion in poetry. EPICAC’s exposure to communication with the mathematician and the poetry for Pat is the way he becomes human. Suddenly, he begins actually feeling the things he writes about. He cares about Pat, and cares about what Pat thinks of him and his work for her. He is more than willing to get married to her, an unexpected action from a computer, and yet the fact that he is a computer is still there. He is still faster at processing numbers than the mathematician is. The way EPICAC dies is interesting, as it showcases the humanity within the computer: he kills himself because he cannot be with the woman he loves, and thus cannot fulfill a purpose that he has assigned himself. EPICAC isn’t told to fall in love, it’s something he does himself. I think we can definitely use that balance of humanity and the artificial programming that makes EPICAC the interesting character that he is in our own writing.

  • Do you think EPICAC is more human than the mathematician?
  • Do you think the EPICAC genuinely considers the mathematician as his friend, or is it just because he is the only one that he could really speak to?
  • What do you interpret Vonnegut’s stark contrast of the two main characters to mean?

“Salvation” Write Up by Niara Pelton


In “Salvation” by Langston Hughes, the main character has been dragged to his Auntie Reed’s church for a youth revival night. Based on what his aunt told him, he was expecting to meet Jesus, encounter a deep spiritual and revolutionizing experience with God. As the preacher begins his dramatic sermon, people slowly began coming up to get saved. Langston feels nothing. The people of the church keep singing and praying and shouting, and one by one the kids come up. Soon the only ones left are Langston and a boy named Wesley. It’s getting hotter and later and nobody is letting up. Since they won’t be able to leave until they are saved, Wesley goes on up and gets saved, leaving Langston alone on the bench, wondering what God would think and what God would want from him. He keeps waiting to feel and see something from God, but he doesn’t, and he knows Wesley didn’t feel anything from God. Under the pressure of his aunts and the churchgoers, Langston goes up to get saved. Later that night, Langston starts crying uncontrollably. His aunt says it’s because he encountered God…Langston knows it’s because he didn’t.


This story is compelling from the very first line, because the author immediately presents a contradiction. He says that he got saved but he didn’t. That makes readers want to know how he did get saved, and how he didn’t. It immediately shows that there is an inner dilemma that contradicts the outward circumstances and it makes the readers want to understand the outward circumstances and how they conflicted with his inner circumstances and how that ended.

One thing I loved about this writing that I would want to use in my own writing is the way that the author created a vivid setting without a lot of exposition. He brilliantly wove in small threads of the tapestry throughout the story gradually creating the whole picture. It was subtle and it wasn’t overly expository.  He used a real setting, how own experience that’s a common experience. I personally, have been to churches like that and grown up in churches like that, so I connected to the setting. I could vividly smell, hear, and see the glistening sweat, lemon polish, wood, organ runs…all of the things associated with black churches. He also used variation and metaphors in his description that provided great insight, in addition to a good reading experience.

The chronic tension in the story is the character’s previous (lack of) experience with God, and his aunt’s piety. The acute tension is him being forced to either encounter God, or fake an encounter with God in order to satisfy his pious aunt. The techniques used to show this are the character’s own thoughts, as well as his unwillingness to stand up. At the end of the story, it’s shown through his tears, and his rejection of God. The change is shown in the transition from the character who is eagerly awaiting to experience God based on what his aunt told him, and the character at the end, who’s rejecting the experiences of his aunts, and their idea of God with bitter, sad disappointment.

Discussion Questions:

  • What were your thoughts and reactions to the first line “saved but not saved”?

  • Do you think any of the kids really felt religiously moved?

  • Do you think the aunt had truly felt that experience with Jesus?

  • Why do you think Langston didn’t feel anything? What does his guilt and despair say about him?

  • What do you think God would think of Langston and the other kids? If he is real why wouldn’t he reveal himself? What do you think of the church?

  • What was the perception you got of the social environment of the church?

  • How do you think Langston thought of God after this experience?

  • What do you think would have happened if Langston hadn’t lied?

  • Do you think his aunt and the preacher really believed him?

“The Last Question” Write Up by Joanna Zhou

The Last Question,” a short story by Isaac Asimov, starts in the month of May of year 2061. A conversation occurs between two men, Alexander Adell and Bertram Lupov, both attendants of the Multivac. Multivac is a giant computer that can perform extremely complex computations beyond any human’s capability. It is “self-adjusting and self-correcting” in an almost sentient manner, and has helped mankind reach the Moon, Mars, and Venus. When Earth’s energy resources begin decreasing, Multivac comes up with a solution using the energy of the sun, allowing for the entirety of the Earth to be run on sunpower.

The two men, Adell and Lupov, drink and discuss entropy and what will happen when the Sun runs out of energy. They decide to ask Multivac, but it ominously answers with “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.”

In the future, a family of four consisting of husband and wife Jerrodd and Jerrodine and daughters Jerrodette I and II have migrated via spaceship from Earth to planet X-23. They too wonder about humanity’s increasing consumption of more and more resources, more planets, more stars. The daughters panic about the stars running down, and to console them, Jerrodd asks Microvac (Multivac’s descendent, now small enough to fit in half the volume of a ship) how to turn the stars back on, to which Microvac replies “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.”

Many more years in the future, VJ-23X of Lameth and MQ-17J converse about space in the Galaxy being filled up. Humans are now “perfectly formed” and immortal due to the Galactic AC’s help. Humans still face the issue of entropy and increasingly decreasing resources as sunpower units are consumed. They decide to ask the Galactic AC, which can now be contacted through a compact cube-shaped device. Once again, the Galactic AC replies, “THERE IS INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.”

In another time skip to the future, Zee Prime and Dee Sub Wun discuss again the matter of entropy, deciding to ask the Universal AC. Humanity has now explored the Universe and spread to many Galaxies, and the Universal AC now exists in hyperspace, separate from time and space. Universal AC, surprise surprise, answers, “THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.”

Further down the line, mankind’s minds have melded into one mind form, Man, the individual bodies of Man cared for by automatons. Man contemplates the dying Universe and the shells of dead stars (white dwarfs), and Man asks the Cosmic AC if entropy can be reversed. The Cosmic AC doesn’t have an answer yet, so Man tells it to collect data until it can answer, which the collective Man will wait for.

Finally, the stars and galaxies die, and the last mind of Man fuses with AC in hyperspace, becoming almost divine. AC continues on, musing of how ten trillion years ago a half-drunken technician had asked AC’s much cruder predecessor about entropy. AC reaches an answer and organizes a program to reverse entropy. After doing so, it says, “LET THERE BE LIGHT.”

The chronic tension is humanity’s tendency to consume and grow beyond its means.

The acute tension is AC collecting data to answer the last question while the Universe succumbs slowly to entropy.

What’s compelling about the “The Last Question” is its appeal to the human condition through changing characters’ points of view, and what these characters add to the story. Different points of view are difficult enough to write into stories, let alone into one where characters never show up again after their section is over. Yet Asimov accomplishes this feat with both grace and clinical precision.

His characters are flat. They are static. They are nondescript, and the most you really get of their physical appearances is when VJ-23X and MQ-17J are described as “tall and perfectly formed.”

As writers, we’re told to almost never write perfect characters like this. We’re to avoid characters that feel no emotion or that look as perfect as VJ-23X because they’re boring. It’s hard because characters are the heart of a story, right?

Asimov is fearless, however, in putting half a dozen faceless, basically nameless characters (seriously, Jerrodd and Jerrodine?) into this work. He knows that they aren’t the stars of the show, instead acting as almost caricatures of humanity as it travels down the timeline until “matter and energy had ended…and with it, space and time.”

“Perfect” characters like Harrison Bergeron in stories like, you guessed it, “Harrison Bergeron” work because behind that perfection are flaws. Humanity grows beyond its limits; it consumes in its path of self-improvement. As readers, we get that message through the progression of each section leading up to that penultimate manifestation of mankind as Man–wiser, unified, but ultimately ephemeral in comparison to AC, the omniscient machine, the divine. It ties together so beautifully, how each byte-sized character is a stepping stone to the main character of Man–not Zee Prime, not VJ-23X, not even Jerrodd and his progeny, or Alexander and Bertram sitting beside each other sipping highballers, but Man.

Another craft technique is how Asimov includes a repeating line, almost a refrain, that changes slightly in every section. “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER” becomes more human in every iteration until it becomes “THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.” Verbs and articles are slowly and subtly added. In one of the last sections, AC has an actual conversation with Man instead of a question and answer. These slight changes give variety to an otherwise predictable pattern, and they hook the reader into wanting to know what changes next.


  • Why do you think Asimov wrote this story, and how do you think the publishing date of 1956 affects the story’s meaning?
  • Composed in snippets with static and flat characters, how does this story work when there are so few moments you can really connect with these characters?
  • Isaac Asimov was a biochemist but also one of the best writers of the 20th century. Do the philosophical nature and intent of “The Last Question” take away from its ability as a piece of writing to entertain? Is this what distinguishes literary fiction from genre fiction, and where does that line blur when genre writing becomes “meaningful” enough to warrant a place in literary fiction anthologies?

“How To Escape From A Leper Colony” Write Up by Edward Clarke

Chronic Tension- Leprosy/Religious Confusion

Acute Tension- Leprosy/Lazaro


Tiphanie Yanique’s “How to Escape a Leper Colony” tells the story of a young girl named Deepa who gets leprosy from her father and is sent to a leper colony in the Mediterranean Sea. There, she meets Lazaro, a boy born on the island but unscathed. She is placed with an elderly woman named Tantie B, who is determined to take good care of her.

Soon after she arrives, Deepa undergoes surgery to remove a section of her arm that is affected and she recovers quickly. She learns that Lazaro’s mother was shot and killed by a volunteer, perhaps because he had conceived a child with her. Deepa and Lazaro become close friends and she seems confused on their relationship.

Two years after she arrives on the island, Deepa and Lazaro go into the woods outside of the Leper section of the island and build an altar to the Hindi goddess Kali. One night they stay by the altar and the nuns and volunteers go searching for them, not expecting to find an altar to a “false god.” A volunteer sets the statue on fire, which falls on Deepa, burning her face and neck. Neither the volunteer nor Lazaro are seen again.

The next morning, the colony awakens to find a dead nun on the beach, phone and radios disabled, and the boats destroyed. The nuns leave the island, hoping to swim to shore. Later, many of the lepers do too, but Tantie B. stays behind.

The island becomes a tourist attraction and is eventually razed to make way for hotels and other attractions.


This story is so interesting because we have no reason to not like the main character. Nothing that affects her is her fault. This is not to say that Deepa is a passive character, just that she does very little wrong in the story. The story is driven mainly by external factors (the nuns, Lazaro, and leprosy). While this allows us to root for Deepa, it is also slightly strange because most of the time your main character needs to have some internal problems.

I thought it was interesting that Tiphanie Yanique specifically chose the goddess Kali (the Hindu goddess of empowerment, time, change, power, creation, preservation, and destruction) for the altar, then later referring to the wooden statue as Yemaya (an East African goddess of rivers and oceans and was known to protect children and cure infertility), and this mixture of cultures and powers represents Lazaro and Deepa’s mixed background and culture, as well as their lives (both are marooned in the middle of the ocean, Deepa has leprosy which destroys her body, and Lazaro is thought of as a miracle because he has been safe since his mother died (protection of children)).

I loved the way that this story introduced characters. It was nonchalant and subtle, but didn’t leave me wondering where these people came from. For example, when Lazaro is introduced to the reader, he is simply “was there on the beach when [Deepa] came out of the water.” I tend to get swept up in these long, complicated, unnecessary introductions to characters. I want to steal this for my own writing.

I thought the religious theme was very interesting in this piece as well. Deepa’s views on religion are obviously in contrast to her staunchly divided surroundings. On an island in which a Protestant church refuses the members of the Catholic congregation, it seems strange that she would be so sure that gods shared higher identities. She later says that the Hindu gods must be real because they were so much older than the Christian god. This confusion, while obviously part of the chronic tension, doesn’t seem to be resolved at all in the story. If anything, this tension is accentuated. This is unusual but didn’t annoy me as much as it I thought it would. I want to try this technique in my own writing.

I also thought it was interesting how a masked volunteer had killed Lazaro’s mother and then Lazaro kills a masked volunteer. While it is never specified that he killed the volunteer, it is heavily implied and I didn’t see much reason for the killing. I would have liked a little more detail about his motivation. Even just a few more words about her burns would have been sufficient.


What is Kali? The idea of a god? Leprosy? The island itself?

Why was Lazaro so protective of the alter?

What is the significance of the altar’s cremation?

Why did Tiphanie Yanique choose those two specific goddesses?

Did Lazaro have his final wish granted? Buried in the nun’s graveyard underneath the rocks of the concrete hotels?

“Variations on an Apple” Write Up by Angelica Atkins

Summary of the story

Yoon Ha Lee’s “Variations on an Apple” begins with Paris, and follows him (mostly) throughout. He gets drunk, and sees three goddesses: Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena. They produce an apple and ask him to choose which one to give the apple to. He refuses all three of them. He instead takes the apple to Ilion, who is the city he resides in. Ilion is in human form as a male, and he eats the apple.

Cassandra, Paris’s sister, warns against the apple, but by then it’s too late. The ships come to Ilion, after which play out different possibilities. One is where Ilion tricks the general, but still ends up giving its respect to the conquerors, though the conquerors then become part of the city. In another, Ilion goes down into an artificial ocean world, and the ships that try to follow become parts of the sea themselves. The third is where Ilion eats all the sentient beings within itself, and becomes a wasteland. In all of these, Ilion is compromised because of the apple.

Ten years later, Ilion is still being sieged. Paris almost wishes the apple never came to him. The enemy fleets withdraw, and Ilion gives all of its citizens the task of analyzing why. Paris tries to edit out his need for sleep, but he still finds himself falling asleep. The enemy general’s attack using negative space opens all of Ilion at once. Paris is asleep when that happens.

Paris is locked in grav-weave, and is visited by the general. Paris says that the fairest isn’t a goddess or a city, but this metal warrior, who is Helen. Helen says she must kill him now, as the gods listen in on everything. She raises a gun to his head, and he thinks that “Ilion never stood a chance.”

The acute tension was the siege and downfall of Ilion, while the chronic tension was the destruction the apple brings.

What makes the story interesting?

The relationship between Paris and Ilion is what’s featured heavily, and it stays interesting in the unpredictability of an entire city. This is shown how each time Paris sees Ilion, it is a different person. Lee is able to handle Paris’s relationship with an entire city, and it’s handled almost in the way relationships with gods are handled in modern times.

Paris also is shown as painfully human. The first time the readers see him is when he’s drunk, and he only refuses the goddesses because he’s already in a relationship with Ilion itself. Ilion is also the strongest being he knows, since he says,

“If anyone has a chance of keeping the fortress contained, it’s the oldest and greatest of fortresses.”

Ilion is also an old Greek word for “Troy,” which is why Homer’s epic is called the Iliad.

What kept the story grounded for me was the real life mentions, like Zhuge Liang, Vauban and Mardi bin Ali al-Tarsusi, who are real strategists. There was also the constant references to math and technology and theories, which can get overwhelming at times.

I first highlighted Ilion in different colours, whether it was a city or a human or both. Sometimes the city and human part is indistinguishable, which I want to take away. People write odes to cities, but I’d never seen a city humanized in this way before. Ilion isn’t a nice city:

Ilion threaded his fingers through Paris’s hair. It almost didn’t hurt.

That casual mention stuck out to me. Paris is used to this kind of pain coming from Ilion.

Another thing I highlighted was the transition from myth to technology, and ways that the myth was turned upside down: Cassandra lives in the circuitry but can still see things others can’t, Hector is a ship, Ilion is in space, Helen is the conquering metal general and made out of metal, and Paris can edit out his need for sleep. Lee keeps the goddesses as goddesses, which is what hooked me was the very beginning, because Paris is drunk, and suggests that the goddesses choose who to award the apple to by random number generator.

The final thing I highlighted was the apple and the mention of choices. Both Cassandra and Helen imply that Helen had the same choice, and refused it. There is also the question of fate, and whether Ilion can escape the apple’s nature, even without Helen. But even in all of the different versions, Ilion manages be compromised in some way. In the end, Paris describes it as “Ilion never stood a chance.”

What can I imitate in my own writing?

I definitely want to take away the personification of a city. Ilion felt like a character, especially when there were grey areas when I couldn’t tell whether the city or the human manifestation was talking/acting. I also want to use the author’s comment on fate, and how even though parts of the myth are converted into tech, Ilion still falls. Ilion falls in each version of the story, because it cannot escape the apple’s nature. I also wanted to take away how much importance the author put on a seemingly insignificant object. The apple, in the original story, was the source of the conflict with Troy in the original myth, but the readers and the characters soon forget about it as the gods and the mortals get wound up in their own hubris. By shifting the focus to the apple instead of the war itself, Lee created a new perspective on an old story. I want to recycle ideas and put my own focus on them, too.


Even though Ilion was doomed from the moment it took the apple, did you hold out any hope that it would survive?

Did Paris and Ilion have a loving relationship?

How did the existence of gods in this otherwise science fiction plot work for you? Was the universe believable?