Red Dust and Dancing Horses by Beth Cato

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 21, 2014 in Writer's Life |

Escape Pod
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Eleven-year-old Martian colonist Nara wants nothing more than to see a horse gallop across the red dust of her planet. It’s a tall order, considering that even horses on Earth are a rarity these days. Still, Nara is obsessed, watching old horse movies until she gets the idea to build her own equine companion. She’s a prodigy with mechanics and convincing AI is pretty easy to come by, but realism…that’s the tricky part. Her father agrees to let her use his workshop to create a metallic version of her favorite horse of all:

She nodded, her mind already filtering through the possibilities. She had to think of horse breeds, no—she would think of specific horses. Trigger, her favorite. He was tough and fast, with all the grace of a dancer. Oh, how he could dance. His hooves shuffled, his gold skin shimmering and muscles coiling. Nara would watch him, holding her breath. Nothing on Mars could move like that.

“You’ll have to use the scrap pile,” Papa continued, snapping her out of a reverie. “But if you need anything fresh, you need to order through me, and you’ll have to work for it. This isn’t going to be cheap.”

“Cheaper than a trip to Earth,” Mother said from the doorway. “And speaking of expenses, we’re going to need inner sealants replaced on three windows as soon as this storm is over. One gap was so big a fiend beetle could almost squeeze through from inside the walls, and God knows what it would cost if one of those got in.”

“As if it’s ever just one,” Papa said, shaking his head. “Well, we’re due for a full sealant inspection anyway.”

Nara closed the equine anatomy charts, her eyes already taking in the nearest scrap pile and a stout piece of pipe ideal for a femur. Mama and Papa’s chatter faded. She tapped her fingers along the tablet, already picturing a horse of her own, programmed to nuzzle her shoulder and whicker in greeting.

Papa was wrong. Balancing the mass would be easy. The artificial intelligence could be adapted from existing programs. Realism was the issue. A glossy hair coat, a trailing mane and tail, the musty smell described in the old books she’d read.

I’ll have to preface my review with the fact that I was never a horse girl growing up. (Unicorns, on the other hand…) so for me, this story already had one strike against it going in. I did really enjoy the characters and the relationships between them, and getting a glimpse of a colony that has settled past the initial excitement and into the mundane of checking glass seals and worrying about insects. But this story really never spoke to me. I tried to re-imagine it if Nara had been obsessed with dogs instead. What if she’d discovered Benji’s coat among the relics in the Corcoran’s Mansion? Nah, it’s just kinda weird, and not really in a good way. But the story does bring up the issues of what precious items deserve to emigrate with us to another planet? What things are so important in Earth history that they deserve an automatic spot in Martian history as well?

I suspect if you’re into horses and taxidermy, this story might be right up your alley, but this one fell flat for me, unfortunately. The writing itself though was enjoyable, and I’d definitely give this author another try.


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