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Review of The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family by Usman T. Malik

This is a short story of about 6000 words which was nominated for the 2015 nebula awards in the short story category.

On the surface it's a story of a family torn apart by suicide bombers and natural disasters in Pakistan. But there are subtle references to physical abnormality in the main character's family - their blood is extremely hot, enough to boil snow or cook food. The main female character, Tara, eventually decides to take action against her brother, who may be intentionally using his internal heat to further the disastrous state of the country.

The interpretation of this is unclear. Considering the story was published as science fiction, there is a temptation to take it literally - but the story makes no effort to explain how this would work biologically, or explore any of the consequences of a family like this on the world -

An easier explanation of the hot blood is as a symbol of some kind of emotional state of anger or passion inside them; Tara uses her passion to handle her trials well, going into education and trying to help people; her brother fails to control his anger and abandons society to the hills. In the end Tara is forced to destroy him, and sees that while he's been alone for four years he has been converted into an emotional monster, not even human anymore, living in a cave. The problem with the symbolic explanation is that it makes their unusual trait into nothing more than a symbol, and makes the story not science fiction at all.

Another interpretation would be that of magical realism, a genre where extra-normal things happen frequently, and they are "real" in the world of the story, but characters never wonder about what they mean for the cosmology of the universe, nor use them to advance their own interests, or explore their limitations. They're like dream interludes in real life - something to be ignored and forgotten, even though there are real-world consequences. But that genre is pretty much the opposite of science fiction.

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