‘I Sexually Identify as An Attack Helicopter’ by Isabel Fall

Always finish with an explosion. That might have been something Chekhov said, had he been inclined to build on his first-act-pistol-maxim. This is also a way of circling back to Caradoc Evans and the idea that fiction – particularly short stories – should be kicking over some statues and burning down some temples. In this sense at least, I am entirely on the side of the writer who’s having their portraits slashed. The controversy around this story was formed almost exclusively around the title, taken from a transphobic meme on the internet, and which Fall has since said she was using to subvert the ideas behind its power to cause distress. Just a few days after the story was published online by Clarkesworld Magazine, the editor took it down because of the barrage of abuse and threats Fall was receiving. The abuse drove her to a stay at a psychiatric hospital for suicidal ideation. Many people, me included, thought the story was excellent, an expansive and visceral takedown of the military industrial complex and the exploitative inclusiveness of corporate “progressiveness”. In the story, Barb has her gender “neuromedically reassigned” by the U.S. Army to “Attack Helicopter” so that she becomes a better pilot. Warfare is now a part of her psychological make-up. It is written with a great deal of poise and wit and taps into the finest elements of Ballardian social-commentary tech-horror (and I include this story in place of any number of J.G. Ballard’s I might otherwise have finished the anthology with). In 2021, it was nominated for a Hugo Award, and it now exists simply as “Attack Helicopter”.

Originally published under this title on Clarkesworld Magazine, 2020

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