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 Hymn of Ordeal, No. 23 by Rhiannon Rasmussen

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 16, 2014 in Reviews

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I’ll let the strength of this opening stand on it’s own:

Your brother’s bones, suspended in mineral fluids, turn as smoothly and shine as brightly as the oil-coated joints of the mechanism they guide. When you touch the heavy plastic that separates you from his body, it is cold. The iron plate that serves to cover what is left of his face turns towards the tapping, and nausea wells deep in your throat. You catch a glimpse of yellow fat, the hole of a socket, nerves that once bundled into the base of an eye now strung behind the iron half-mask.

Flesh did not make the transit to deep space whole, only guts packed in gel and nerves strung into wires, the delicate threads that extend to outer sensors, thrusters, and lenses. That is what they are now. Not people, not soldiers, but shrikes: the folded warbirds sent through void to cleanse it of the invaders, to impale them on their own stardust ruins, to leave broken chassis and frozen corpses scattered as warning to others who might threaten us. If the invaders left corpses—you have never seen them, only the scars of their passage left across the skin of Earth.

Interstellar war and deconstructed humans go together like peanut butter and jelly. Kind of a literal jelly, too, I guess, with lots of floating body bits.  This story scores high on the ick factor, if you’re into that sort of thing. (**Raises hand**) But beyond that, this is a masterfully written piece of flash that grips you from beginning to end. There’s the lost sibling relationship that tugs at the heart strings. There’s the alien war and morality lines that get drawn in response. While the narrator never leaves Earth, the weight of space is constantly on her mind, across much of her lifetime. We all know that people come back from war changed, but what happens to the people like her brother who are changed so drastically before they even fight a single battle, reduced to strung nerves and gristle? So many deep questions are posed in this short piece and my only response to Rhiannon is: More, please!

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“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
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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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