Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Builders Of Leaf Houses, by Catherine Wells

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On Dray's planet, the natives in Motherlove's village meet humans at an inconvenient time, for they are coping with a number of challenges. Marta and Shipner mean well, but they have problems of their own, and communication is difficult. (19,220 words; Time: 1h:04m)

Rating: ★★★★★ Award-Worthy

An excerpt is free from Analog.
"Builders Of Leaf Houses," by (edited by Trevor Quachri), appeared in issue 12|15, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The grand arc of this story is Motherlove's need to make three decisions: what to do about the volcano, what to do about the succession, and what to do about the young born without memories.

The human story is that Marta wants to learn about the aliens, and, by the end, she is able to communicate enough to be helpful. So the two stories dovetail nicely.

 The four major alien characters, Motherlove, Workwork, Neverrest, and Alwaysright, are very well detailed, completely distinct from each other, and all have strengths and weaknesses. Even the annoying Alwaysright does good work organizing against the treeborers; she isn't evil, although she is shortsighted.

Several sources of tension spice the story up. Will the volcano explode? Will Motherlove die or get sick, letting Alwaysright take over? Will some misunderstanding lead to violence? And will the humans leave without warning the natives how soon the volcano will explode?

 The conclusion, when Marta has learned enough to communicate what she needs to, satisfies in many ways. This is Marta and Neverrests' shared accomplishment, and they've earned it. Workwork and Motherlove both do a great job of reasoning through the implications. Deducing that the eruption is in 20 days, that the humans use sound to communicate, and that intelligence without inherited memory is possible.

An especially entertaining scene is when Neverrest brings the humans home and begs Motherlove to let her keep them. "I'll feed them, and clean up after them, and they can sleep in my bed."

The author describes this as a sequel to her 1999 novel, Beyond the Gates, which seems to have been about Marta's life prior to this adventure. We have not read "Beyond the Gates," but "Builders of Leaf Houses" can definitely stand alone.

Con: Dr. Soln Shipner is the one unsatisfactory character. His sexual interest in Marta seems inappropriate, given she's his assistant, and he's a combination of lazy and deeply perceptive. His main value to the story is breaking his leg.

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