Tuesday, April 19, 2016

We Have a Cultural Difference, Can I Taste You? by Rebecca Ann Jordan

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(SF) Filo/Gee, an intelligent giant amoeba, isn't the ideal college roommate, particularly since he experiences the world through touching and tasting, which is hard on books, electronics, and relationships. (3,617 words; Time: 12m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Recommended

"," by (edited by Niall Harrison), appeared in issue 04/18/16, published on .

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

Pro: This story is about how Filo/Gee tries and eventually succeeds in conveying to Nina what it feels like to be him. The scene at the end where she touches him and let's him taste her arm up to the wrist is powerful and moving. The contrast with the cruel students who were hoping he'd die and become extinct couldn't be stronger. We're sad that Nina didn't disagree with them (at least she didn't join them), but we entirely understand how she feels a need to atone by doing something for him.

There are great bits of humor: "It’s time for a presentation from the two AIs on theory of mind when you don’t technically have one." They offset the really serious bits: "We’ve never talked about the human-transmitted disease that wiped out my friends and family and everyone I knew."

But what's really impressive about the story is that Filo/Gee comes across as truly alien--he's not just a human being in protozoan drag. His need to taste is overwhelming, and everyone's failure to realize that leads to the catastrophe where he licks Tinequert to death. It's not just ingestion of mass that he requires to be healthy--it's ingestion of stimulus. When Nina comes to him at the end, he's fading away for lack of it, and their encounter is doubly moving when you realize that she's not just making him feel better--she's saving his life.

Con: The bit about his species dividing like real amoebas strikes a false note. Minutes earlier he was dwindling away, and suddenly he's optimistic about repopulating his entire planet? It's also a surprise that no one knew his kind reproduced by fission. If they know enough to treat him medically, it's hard to believe they didn't know something that basic.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Weirdly sweet and funny story. I think others knew that Filo/Gee's species reproduced by splitting. It's just Nina and her fellow students who hadn't bothered to really find out anything about them.

  2. It's very rare to see a good story written from the perspective of an alien who very clearly is not human.