Review #12: The Economy of a Vacuum by Sarah Thomas

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Feb 22, 2010 in Reviews

Moon Through MistPhoto by Ctd 2005 Creative Commons

Published by: Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 2009

The Story:

Virginia has trained hard to be the moon’s first long-term resident. She’s prepared for the vast moments of loneliness punctuated by stardom during her weekly transmissions home to Earth. Not that she’s ever felt particularly tied to one city over another, but she’s American through and through. She even entertains the Vice President who hitched a ride on a supply ship, though his visit is cut short when he receives news that the situation with some foreign country is quickly deteriorating.

Then the supply ship stops coming. It’d been blown up, and there’s no money to replace it. Through a static-filled connection, Virginia reassures the Deputy Director that she’ll be fine. The moonbase is supposed to be self-sufficient after all, and she’s better equipped to be alone up there than any astronaut outside of Russia. The Deputy Director doesn’t have the heart to tell Virginia that there’s no longer a Russia. A few weeks later, Virginia can’t get a connection to the Deputy Director at all.

The Craft: Beginnings

SPOILERS

The story opens up with a clever line about how everyone had wrongly predicted that people would quickly get bored of hearing about the mission. This line really hooked me because of the truth underneath it. Space is pretty boring. It’s forgettable, beyond thirty-second news blips. But as it turns out, people are interested in the human face — Virginia prancing around for the cameras, making the moonbase her own with posters and mementos from home. She’d been allowed to bring everything she wanted, thanks to the efficiency of the Valero thermocakes.

As the next few scenes continue, we discover that Virginia’s mission is more of a giant product placement ad than anything, with Harper-Doubleday donating a shelf of books and Benjamin Moore donating buckets of paint for which Virginia has to come up with creative uses. This scenario, as funny as it reads, strikes a chord with me. For a project like this to be economically feasible, you can bet there’d be corporations ready to drop big bucks on this mission. Why be the official sponsor of a sports stadium when you could have your name plastered across an entire moonbase?

Despite the minor inconveniences that distract Virginia from her work, things are going pretty well. The hydroponic garden is blooming, her experiments are producing results, and she’s had no detrimental health effects due to space exposure. Here we get some good grounding details and build up some setting right before all hell breaks loose. In the span of a few sentences, we go from Virginia having the time of her life to a world war. Virginia soon finds herself cut off from Earth. The reader gets a sneak peak into what’s going on through the Deputy Director’s eyes. We know despite his calmness as he speaks to Virginia that his world is about to end. This POV shift was a little awkward for me, but I enjoyed the insight that it brought, and I savored having a bit of knowledge that Virginia didn’t.

This story is high in concept and setting. From the very beginning, the character comes off as secondary, and we get to see why in the second part of this story. Virginia goes mad and her sense of self becomes entangled in the moonbase itself as she paints every surface until she has a fractal of chessboards, her mind too fluid to play just one game at a time. And just when it seems she’s got no mind left to lose, she gets some visitors, one of whom will prove that she does.

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Review #4: Bad Matter by Alexandra Duncan

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Jan 11, 2010 in Reviews

Author Website: http://ashevilledilettante.blogspot.com
Published by: Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 2009

The Story:

Dr. Saraih Hertz is a professor at Baghdad University, whose interest in paleography is piqued when she receives an oddly worded letter intended for her recently deceased father. In the 26th century, parcel post is all but obsolete, except among the merchant trans-celestial crewes that ferry specialized cargo across the galaxy. One of these crewes is captained by Parastrata Harrah, the man who sent the cryptic letter that speaks of a woman named Ete, a woman Saraih’s father had never mentioned during the recounts of his dealings with Harrah’s crewe.

Saraih decides to look into the matter and books a flight to the sub-orbital station where Harrah’s ship is docked. There she encounters Harrah, his wives, and the curious, rich culture of the ship’s inhabitants.

The Craft:
SPOILERS

Saraih feels like an awkward schoolgirl when she boards Harrah’s ship, her brightly colored headscarf and dark skin in stark contrast with the sallow, nearly translucent skin of Harrah’s aloof crewe. They’re more than hospitable, but all eyes are upon Saraih — a woman who has stepped upon the earth — a privilege reserved only for men within the crewe’s culture. Slowly, she teases out the information about this mysterious Ete, the details of her secretive relationship with Sarah’s father, and why Ete’s presence is bringing bad luck to Harrah’s crewe.

There’s not a lot I can say about this story without spoiling the plot since there’s so very little of it, and yet this is probably one of the most enjoyable short stories I’ve read in a long time. The meat of this story lies in a meticulously constructed culture that even now I have a hard time getting into my head that it’s only fiction. The footnotes give the story an extra punch of believability and are well-written, informative, and add just a touch of humor to the piece.

This story has a re-readablity factor of 10 out of 10, and its only fault is that it leaves me wanting more. I hope to see a novel set in this universe from Ms. Duncan very soon.

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