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Fifty Shades of Grays by Steven Barnes

"Fifty Shades of Grays" by Steven Barnes 

Fifty Shades of Grays was first published in Lightspeed Magazine, June 2016, issue 73.  Later published in the anthology The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017 edited by Rich Horton.  You can read the story on Lightspeed's website here: . 

There is also a nice interview with Steven Barnes on Lightspeed Magazine's website.  You can find it here: . 

This story was about a man named Carver Kofax who worked for a marketing and sales agency called Stein and Baker.  He was about to sign his life away on a confession to the government.  That's where the story starts. 

Carver was having dinner with a graphic artist named Rhonda Washington at a sushi restaurant.  They were talking about a pitch that they had to make, but were told nothing about.  They ruminated on what the pitch could be about and why they were teamed up for the pitch.   They were to attend a conference that would explain what the pitch would be about.  The conference turned out to be a prequel to a competition for the best pitch from hundreds of different agencies.  They found out that the pitch was who could make "ugly sexy." 

They were taken to a hotel room where they spent hours going over ideas.  Eventually one thing led to another and they went for each other with animal lust.  Rhonda ended up drawing some explicit pornographic pictures as a pitch idea joke.  The porno pictures ended up getting put into the envelope that was sent with their pitch.  Later that day they ended up getting a call saying their pitch was accepted and they were to come and talk about accepting the proposal. 

drone limo came to pick up Carver and Rhonda and shuttled them to the pentagon. The whole time they were wondering when porn became a national security issue.  They were ushered into a room where they signed non-disclosure agreements.  Then the President herself came into the room to explain the situation.   

The situation turned out to be that they came into contact with an alien race.  The aliens came in peace, but had technology that was vastly superior to what they had.  The aliens wanted to trade that technology for one thing.  They wanted to have sex with the humans.  The problem was that the aliens were ugly as sin and the nation needed a way to make people want to have sex with ugly aliens.  That's where Carver and Rhonda came into the picture.  It was going to be their job, if they chose to accept it, to make the ugly aliens sexy.   

This was a really interesting premise for a story.  I wasn't expecting what came next.  The whole premise of aliens coming to have sex with us was a bit funny to me.  I could just picture what it would be like to have aliens come half way across the galaxy and then want nothing but to have recreational sex with us.   the author hangs a lantern on this aspect of the story as a funny premise as well. 

The rest of the story delves into some of the subtler aspects of the alien race and their request.  What would it take to make ugly sexy?  If they did succeed in their mission of making sexy ugly, what would sex with an alien be like? 

This story also dealt with a theme of relationships and how they evolve and possibly devolve.  What would happen if earth stopped producing children.  If couples no longer wanted to have children.  What would our world look like? 

I enjoyed this story very much.  I was drawn into the story almost immediately and although not a thrilling short story was eager to turn the page.  I just had to see where the next page took me in the story.  I had emotional responses to some of the scenes in the story because I was drawn in so much.  

The story was well paced and did a fantastic job of making a suspension of disbelief possible.  I mean the thought of this actually happening... come on!  However, while reading the story I totally found it possible.  I was even guessing as to what would happen next or hoping things would come up in the story to find out the author thought of it as well.  Many of my questions were answered. 

I liked how the story touched on the politics of what would happen, but didn't go so far as to be overly political.  There was just enough politics to make the story enjoyable. 

A great read overall.  I enjoyed the play on words with the title.  Such an aptly named story.   


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