Fade to White by Catherynne Valente
5/9/16. Read on Clarkesworld.
In an alternate history, World War II never ended. Two characters, a boy and a girl, approach their 15th birthday, when they will find out what their "purpose" will be in life.
World War II never ended in the US and now it's the 1950s. McCarthy is President and society is extremely regimented due to ongoing war, nuclear radiation issues and population decline because of those things. At 15, young women and men are given their lot in life. Martin wants nothing more than to be a husband. In this alternate history, because there are so many men on the front lines and radiation and nutrition issues really affect the fertility of both women and men, the number of men who will become fathers and husbands is miniscule. At 15, each boy is tested for their sperm count in a ceremony. Each husband has four or more wives and spends a week or so with each family.
Sylvie, also 15, lives with her mother. She has a crush on (or possibly real feelings for) Clark, a black boy around her age who is leaving for the front lines soon. She realizes the reality of his impeding deployment and the non-possibility of them being together. Her mother is actually Japanese, though she has worked exceedingly hard to hide that aspect of herself--both in terms of looks and accent. Because husbands are rarely around, women have a very free life, at least in some cases. Some find actual true love with other women in their neighborhoods. Some can explore hobbies, interests and intellectual ventures.
On the ceremony day, Sylvie gets ready with all the clothes and accessories the government sent her, as does Martin. She gets matched with Thomas, a handsome boy with a high sperm count, but it turns out that they have the same father, so she gets rematched with another boy who is satisfactory but not exciting. Thomas is also the brother of Martin, who sadly has a very small sperm count and is immediately given his first dose of a hormonal suppressant. In this world, these types of libido killers are branded names like "Kool" or "Arcadia." Throughout the entire story, there are sections of humorous ad campaigns and the commentary inserted from a marketer. The creative director might recommend a commercial with a group of kids and the commentator inserts comments about how the group has to be diverse, with this many girls, wearing these kinds of outfits, holding these kinds of vegetables, etc. It definitely adds comic relief to an otherwise kind of distressing tale.
Thoughts or Additional Info:
2012 Nebula Award nominee for best novelette; 2013 Hugo Award nominee for best novelette; 2013 Sidewise Award nominee for best short-form alternate history.
"Fight the Communist Threat in Your Own Backyard!"
Memorable Lines or Passages:
alternate history, WWII, mccarthy, radiation, fertility, marketing, advertisements, nebula, hugo, alternative history, lgbtq
I'm just a short story lover and voracious reader who wants to keep track of the shorts I read and help others remember the ones they've forgotten.