The Symphony of Ice and Dust by Julie Novakova

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 18, 2014 in Reviews

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Some eleven thousand years from now, Chiara and her fellow Jovian composers are looking to create the greatest symphony of all time, and they think they will find the material they need to do so on the dwarf planet Sedna. What they discover is not one, but two time capsules buried deep beneath the layers of ice. Two ships, one human and the other decidedly not. Theodora, co-pilot of the human ship, has long since passed on, but has left a detailed assessment of her short time upon the Sedna where hopefully someone, somewhere, from sometime will find it:

Theodora was descending through the tunnel in the ice. It was dark except the light from LEDs on her suit and the reflectors from the top of the shaft. Her rope was winding down gradually. She could see the drilling device below now.

The light above seemed faint when she reached the probe. It took her only an hour to get it operational again. She smiled and let the winch pull her up again.

Just as she neared the surface, she heard a noise in the speakers of her suit. “Dimitri?” she spoke. “What is it?”

“Have to . . . come down . . . ”

She barely understood him through the static.


For a while, she heard nothing. Then the static returned—and after that, Dimitri’s distorted voice. “ . . . have to land.” Cracking and humming. Theodora tried to amplify the sound frantically. “ . . . send you the coordinates . . . hope it works out . . . ”

A file found its way through the transmission. It was a technical report generated by Kittiwake. Theodora opened it and glimpsed through it quickly.

“Oh no,” she whispered.

I liked the surreal feel of this piece–composers from Jupiter looking for musical inspiration in ancient ship wreckage? Sure, sign me up. For me, it is a little difficult to project what humanity will be like eleven thousand years in the future, but maybe we’ll be a lot like we are today, just with fancier gadgets, weirder tastes in music, and hopefully enough technological advancement to escape the clutches of what is apparently one cursed dwarf planet. Still, it seems like there is something deeper to this story. It manages to hold tension, despite the fact that we know Theodora will not make it very early on. I found myself hoping for her safe escape anyway, tensing at impending dangers. She is a hero, working diligently at her job, so focused on leaving some sort of legacy in the wake of personal disaster, hoping that her voice will be heard and that her story will be helpful. It’s a bittersweet story, probably more bitter than sweet, and the ending might leave you a little misty eyed.

Judith Resnik

REAL Women in Space
Judith Resnik
First Jewish-American in space
Died in the Challenger disaster
STS-41-D (Aug. 30, 1984)
STS-51-L (Jan. 28, 1986)
Creative Commons

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Deep End by Nisi Shawl

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 17, 2014 in Reviews

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Psyche Moth is a prison ship, on a slow, long interstellar journey to the planet Amends, some eight light years form Earth. The prisoners, who are on the ship “voluntarily,” have spent most of the voyage in freespace–a virtual world where they frolic weightlessly, in contrast to the new meat bodies they are being downloaded into as they near the end of their voyage. As awful as that sounds, life for Wayna has gotten worse since she downloaded into her meat suit. Her girlfriend has grown aloof, her jealous boyfriend is stuck back in freespace, and her new body–her new and strangely white body–is malfunctioning.

Then the pain hit.

White! Heat! There, then gone—the lash of a whip.

Wayna stopped moving. Her suit held her up. She floated, waiting. Nothing else happened. Tentatively, she kicked and stroked her way to the steps rising from the pool’s shallows, nodding to those she passed. At the door to the showers, it hit her again: a shock of electricity slicing from right shoulder to left hip. She caught her breath and continued in.

The showers were empty. Wayna was the first one from her hour out of the pool, and it was too soon for the next hour to wake up. She turned on the water and stood in its welcome warmth. What was going on? She’d never felt anything like this, not that she could remember—and surely she wouldn’t have forgotten something so intense . . . She stripped off her suit and hung it to dry. Instead of dressing in her overall and reporting to the laundry, her next assignment, she retreated into her locker and linked with Dr. Ops.

Space is the New Black? This story is easy to get sucked into and equally easy to get creeped out by because of its plausibility. It’s not like sending a bunch of prisoners to a remote colony is unprecedented, or anything. These people give up the bodies they are born with, have their minds uploaded into a computer, and then are squirted out into new bodies cloned from the privileged, and live on a new planet that almost nothing is known about. Are they getting a new start? Yes. Did Earth rid itself of thousands of criminals in the name of exploration and discovery? Yes. Are they being exploited? Yes. I know that this is just a story with fictional characters, but I feel my heart aching for them in an absurd soft of way. I hope that they find happiness out there, and are able to make amends with the past that has been stolen from them.

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“The Gaps in Translation” by Andrea Corbin

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 15, 2014 in Reviews

Crossed Genres
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In this story of a second contact, three humans visit a world inhabited by lizard-like people, some hundred years after the first contact. They are greeted by immediate differences based on what they’ve learned from the recordings of the first contact, specifically the flying “gliders” the lizzies now ride upon. Even the language has evolved, giving Miranda, the linguistics expert of the group, some trouble:

««Hello,»» Jago said, in the best lizzie that he had picked up from the old recordings. The lizzies hesitated and looked at him. Their faces were enough like humans that Miranda was almost fooled into thinking she could read the expression, but she caught herself. It looked like one of them smiled in amusement, but it could be a grimace, indicating offense.

««Hello,»» one of them replied. It looked at each of them in turn. ««You can come —- you will meet —– who —- you.»»

Miranda understood only pieces of what it said. Their chips were set to listen and recalibrate at first, making Miranda’s background studying theoretical neurolinguistics even more valuable for a few days. Though she was the expert on the lizzie language, she had trouble catching everything. The accent seemed to have changed and Miranda’s ear wasn’t ready for it.

««Repeat, please. Come where?»»

The lizzie clapped its hands, and curled its tail. Pleased. That was an action she’d seen in the recordings. It’d been a hundred years since the first brief visit. Enough time to record and observe, enough data to study that Miranda could learn to speak well enough.

I’m a sucker for linguistics stories, and love how language unfolds and mutates, so this was right up my alley. The lizard aliens were great, and I particularly enjoyed the terse and coy comments by Co, the elder lizard who was alive for the first contact. I really got a good feeling for the lizard culture and it seemed both alien and familiar at the same time. I was curious to learn more about their gender roles, though the story left that open. My one big hangup with this is that I never really bought into the human characters. Their actions seemed a little arbitrary to me and their decisions unfocused and unclear, especially towards the end of the story. While they were believable, even enjoyable as characters, I just didn’t believe that someone, somewhere would have decided they were the best fit for a mission as important as a second contact. That aside, this was a fun read, and it explores some interesting themes on the influences cultures can have upon one another.

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