“Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (the Successful Kind)” by Holly Black

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 6, 2014 in Writer's Life

Lightspeed, September 2014
Author Website: http://blackholly.com/


Short Women in Space, Review #6

In this novelette, a young girl stows away on her uncle’s cargo ship, fleeing a homesteader lifestyle on the boring planet her parents immigrated to. Life aboard the ship presents its own challenges when she realizes that her parents’ warnings about her uncle weren’t completely unfounded. He’s an intergalactic smuggler, but there’s no turning back now. She’ll just have to learn the rules so she can properly follow in his footsteps.

She’s heard a lot of bad things about spaceports, but when she lands on Zvezda-9, it doesn’t live up to the hype. No one’s trying to slip her drugs, no flesh-ripping Charkazak anywhere in sight.

Zvezda-9 is a big stretch of cement tunnels, vast microgravity farms, hotel pods, and general stores with overpriced food that’s either dehydrated or in a tube. There are also InterPlanetary offices, where greasy-looking people from a variety of worlds wait in long lines for licenses. They all stare at your homespun clothes. You want to grab your uncle’s hand, but you already feel like enough of a backworld yokel, so you curl your fingers into a fist instead.

There are aliens—it wasn’t like your parents were wrong about that. Most of them look human and simultaneously inhuman, and the juxtaposition is so odd that you can’t keep from staring. You spot a woman whose whole lower face is a jagged-toothed mouth. A man with gray-skinned cheeks that grow from his face like gills or possibly just really strange ears loads up a hovercart nearby, the stripes on his body smeared so you know they are paint and not pigmentation. Someone passes you in a heavy, hairy cloak, and you get the impression of thousands of eyes inside of the hood. It’s creepy as hell.

After she’s over the initial shock of it all, after she’s gotten herself some high-tech threads, some trendy holographic earrings, and a don’t-mess-with-me swagger, she realizes this place is exactly what she was running away from — boring.

That is until her uncle scores a no-questions-asked job of a lifetime, smuggling a cylindrical casket full of something, or more likely — someone — to an unscrupulous genetics lab. And of course, these things can never go well. Will pluck and her uncle’s rules be enough to get our heroine out of an intergalactic bind?

For all of the blood and guts and gore in this story, it’s a truly charming one. On top of being emotionally wrenching, it’s also masterfully written. The first time I came across this story, I moved right past it, thinking the format was a gimmick, but there’s no gimmick here, just pure and awesome storytelling. I’m so glad I went back to give it a full read. It’s really uplifting to see a young woman in space, setting out on adventures, solving momentous problems, and making a name for herself. This one is a bit of a time commitment, coming in at over 8000 words, but I promise, by the end of it you’ll be wishing there were 8000 more.

Sally Ride

REAL Women in Space
Sally Ride
First American woman in space
STS-7 (Jun. 18, 1983)
Creative Commons

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