Review #4: Bad Matter by Alexandra Duncan

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Jan 11, 2010 in Reviews |

Author Website:
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:

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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