A Hollow Play by Amal El-Mohtar
Growth by A.C. Buchanan
The Beasts We Want to Be by Sam Miller
I first heard the term “message fiction” a couple of weeks ago. “Message fiction,” as it is being derisively thrown around, would seem to be something like a homily, an instructive or perhaps pedantic story in which the characters do what they do and say what they say in order to teach you something. They are nothing new: we’ve had allegorical novels since forever, and some of the most popular novels of the 20th century—cult novels like Atlas Shrugged, The Alchemist, or Jonathan Livingston Seagull—are homilies. Readers like them, even if critics often do not.
Of course, every word we say is encoded with messages, both intended or not. Simply containing messages doesn't make something a “message story.” A story becomes a parable, a homily or an allegory only when the messages are so on-the-nose that no other readings are possible. I sympathize with deriders of “message stories” on this point: clumsy proselytizing is annoying to read even when I agree with the politics behind a story. These stories feel preachy not because of the people and ideas they contain, but because they preach.
Amal El-Mohtar’s story “A Hollow Play” (Glitter & Mayhem, Apex Publishing, August 2013) approaches parable territory due to the story’s “told,” not “shown,” structure. By telling almost the entire story through an explicative...