Monday, October 12, 2015

The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill, by Kelly Robson

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In 2001, just before the attacks, a girl out West has a very close encounter with space aliens. (5,318 words; Time: 17m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ Average
Recommended By: GDozois:5

"," by (edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 101, published on .

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

Pro: Jessica's story unrolls very naturally, and we're eager for her to get better. Each "death" is unnerving. We're very sorry at the end when she choses to die for good--apparently because the events of 9/11/2001 cause her to think the worst of the aliens.

Con: Given the power the aliens seem to have, it's difficult to believe they'd risk their own lives with Jessica. Jessica's decision to kill herself at the end seems irrational--the aliens have given her no reason to believe that they mean her or Earth any harm. In fact, it's rather odd that she never asks them why they're here.

Other Reviews: Search Web, Browse Review Sites (Issue 101)

6 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I couldn't get along with this story at all - I didn't find the character or her actions made much sense to me.

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  2. I agree with the rating and the review.

    I read this, thought about it, and looked at it from different angles.
    It does not make sense what she did in the end, and the story was clear that it was to do with the aliens.

    I suspect she should also have asked "Why did the bear die?"
    This might have partially cleared up the ending, but that is just a guess on my part.

    For the benefit of other readers - this story is violent.

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  3. I didn't understand the 9/11 reference - it seemed like a metaphor that failed somehow. That said, I found the story visceral and chilling, and suspended disbelief over the inconsistencies.

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  4. I've only just caught up to this story in Dozois's 33rd Annual Best SF. Like Vivienne, I think I'd have given it a 4; it was gripping and disturbing, and I've been thinking about it since I finished reading it a couple of days ago. (Also like Vivienne, I don't think that setting it around 9/11 really worked, or added anything to the story.)

    The main thing that drove me to comment on it here, however, is this: I don't think there are any aliens in the story. Whatever the 'bacteria' inside Jessica are, they're terrestrial. Almost at the end Jessica comes to this realization, and asks "So bacteria can fly a spaceship?"

    The reason she decides to kill herself at the end is because she realizes they have been lying the whole time: although the 'aliens' brought her back to life, they are also devouring or transmogrifying her from within, just as they did to the bear. Hence the belatedly-realized significance of her jeans nearly slipping off her hips: she's wasting away from within, just as the bear (which is described as 'skin and bones') did, which is why she stabs her thumb with a pin to see what comes out. She also realizes that the 'aliens' have a vocabulary that they couldn't possibly have acquired from her, implying that she's not the first human they have occupied. A possibility that the story leaves open is that rather than a human serial killer, it's the 'aliens' inside Jessica that are responsible for most of the vanished girls.

    Having said all that, I'm not sure that the actions of the 'aliens' make a whole lot of sense in this interpretation either. Even if whatever is inside her is a parasite, it's obviously both sentient and biologically adept (meaning that it could coexist within Jessica), so why would it want to (or take the risk of) killing off its host? Especially as it seems to have only lucked out in finding her when its previous host (the bear) was evidently close to death.

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    Replies
    1. No problem. It's perfectly okay to talk about older stories, even if they're not Hugo-eligible this year. :-)

      Taking a quick look at the story, you make a good point that the story itself raises doubts as to whether they're aliens. When I read it, I have to admit I pretty much assumed that Jessica was just "too dumb to live," so I discounted her doubts. I figured the aliens had studied Earth before arriving, and that their telepathy was language-independent. As for the weight loss, that made sense as part of their struggle to repair her body.

      But your interpretation makes good sense. If I'd got that out of it when I first read it, I definitely would have considered giving it four stars. (I love "aha!" moments.)

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