I should first admit that although I’m a bit of a comics geek, Gaiman’s not on my must-read list. Occasionally I will adore his work, mostly it’s merely an afternoon’s read. It’s nothing in particular against him, merely that he’s not interested in writing about things I’m interested in reading about, so our paths don’t cross.
“How to Talk to Girls at Parties” was a huge disappointment for me, however, even with my moderate expectations. Short stories need to make up in intensity what they lack in length. A clever and unexpected twist, or startlingly original idea will achieve this: see Snow, Glass, Apples, for Gaiman doing this well. “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” had a few original ideas, but the central conceit was so incredibly transparent that I had figured it out five hundred words in.
The following contains spoilers.
Our narrator is called, rather unfortunately, Enn. (I assume this a nickname, or short for something.) He’s on his way to a party with his more confident friend, Vic. They go to an all-boys school together, although Vic has managed to actually meet and interact with girls. On their way to the party, Vic tells the nervous Enn, “They’re just girls, [...] They don’t come from another planet.”
This is what we call a gun on the wall in the first chapter. Combine this with the fact that the story is nominated for a Hugo, and written by Gaiman, and I think most readers can work out for themselves where the story goes from here.
Obviously, Vic makes a good point. Girls really are just people, and treating them as completely incomprehensible aliens is going to be a barrier to communication, or, in the case of this story, allow Enn to mistake completely incomprehensible aliens for girls. But, as someone who is actually a girl, pointing out that girls are people was not an insight that rocked my world.
There are interesting implications in the fact that the girl-shaped aliens want to impregnate Enn not with larvae, but with a memetic virus, a poem that will reshape humanity. Is this meant to contrast to a fear of the sexually liberated woman? This was not truly explored.
“Talking to Girls at Parties” is like watching a magician pull out of a hat, not a rabbit, but a hatpin, while a rabbit hops across the stage.
So the story failed to deliver that sharp twist which I particularly like in short stories, but it is quite decent at completely incomprehensible aliens. If you like your aliens with truly other biology and societies, this story is worth checking out.