Primrose or Return to Il’maril by Mary McMyne

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 20, 2014 in Reviews |

Apex Magazine
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Virginia Booth is a noted xenoanthropologist well past the end of her career, during which she held a deep connection with the people of Il’maril, a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. She is called there out of retirement by Vierro Casstratil, a powerful Il’marilian shaman, who she must convince to leave their homeworld due to the impending supernova of their star. Despite the threat of extinction, it will not be an easy task. The people of Il’maril hold tightly to myth and beliefs:

I’d awakened that morning with a particularly germane line of scripture on my tongue. All day, as the caravan led me to this cave, I’d been repeating it to myself, worried I would forget without the memory chip I’d refused out of respect for the taboos. “‘Without the sun we are nothing.’”

He nodded. “Your teacher taught you well. And yet you advocate for evacuation?”

“No matter how much I love this place,” I hoped he could hear the regret in my voice, “I must.”

From the surface, the Il’maril sky was enchanting, the crimson sun bathed in rose–coloured light. Only from space was it clear the planet actually had two suns: a tiny white dwarf and its companion, a rosy red giant blooming petals of dust. Probe ships had been making passes over the system ever since convection began in the dwarf star, which accreted enough mass to go supernova long ago. This year, after their annual pass, the astrophysicists projected the disaster’s date: one month from today. Only a splinter group of Il’marillians had agreed to evacuate so far — the emigrants, they called themselves proudly, though the word for the concept was considered obscene. My mission was to convince Casstratil and the rest to go.

I gestured at the floor, the traditional place on Il’maril for discussions of state. “Should we sit?”

Casstratil nodded almost imperceptibly beneath his hood. I still couldn’t see his face. Somewhat further down the tunnel, I was certain now, I could see a light glowing on the wall. Orb–shaped, it glowed a vague silver colour with hints of purple; it wasn’t very bright. In my first pub, I’d speculated that they kept some kind of ancient tech in these caves, which ran on the mysterious geothermal energy the shamans referred to as zim–zivat. It had only been a storytelling device; now, I wondered if I was right.

The superiority complex of humankind extends well into our future in this piece. With all of our science, tech, and knowledge obtained over artificially lengthened lifespans, we know what’s in the best interest of a planet in a galaxy far, far away, right? Our calculations and predictions could never be wrong. We are infallible, after all.

It does not take much to draw modern-day parallels to this story, so this is an important tale to take to heart. It’s sad to think that in half a millennium from now, we’ll still be making the same bull-headed mistakes we are today, so it’s good to read a story that puts humanity in its place. This piece does so, and gives us great characters to cling on in the process. Virginia gets  a glimpse of how despite our ability to skip across the stars, we are still toddlers in our knowledge of so many things–going confidently about our lives, completely unaware of the danger lurking in the pretty fire upon the stove top, of the hundreds and thousands of small lives extinguished beneath our oblivious footfalls on the sidewalk.  And yet, I don’t think this story was meant to disparage us, but to encourage us to grow. It’s okay to be born not knowing everything, and learning doesn’t have to be a race. Sometimes it’s important to just stop and smell the primroses.

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