Sunday, February 11, 2018

Umbernight, by Carolyn Ives Gilman

★★★☆☆ Mixed

(SF Colony Adventure) The colonists on Dust usually hunker down for their years-long winter, especially when the companion star, Umber, blasts the surface with radiation, but a critical package from Earth needs to be retrieved now. (18,059 words; Time: 1h:00m)

"," by (edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 137, published on .

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

Pro: The strongest thing about this story is the almost non-stop tension and excitement. That and the vivid descriptions of the deadly but beautiful creatures of Umbernight.

The story had a strong anti-rational, anti-science message, moderated a bit by the recognition that the notion of “rationality” taught at the habitat wasn’t quite what the term was supposed to mean. By that, and the fact that true irrationality (e.g. Seabird’s fear of ghosts) gets no sympathy here.

At several points on the journey, the narrator and her companions do or say things that remind us that most of being human isn’t about rationality. Whether it’s Amal playing the mandolin, or everyone deciding to keep the dog, or even just their determination to bury or at least memorialize their dead, the story is dominated by human factors that are not subject to reason.

Con: The largest reason I can’t recommend this story is that although it has the form of a hard SF story, the science in it is awful. For starters, a planet orbiting a G-type star would have a year about the same as Earth’s year. If it had a thirty-year period, it would be as cold as Saturn. A pulsar (or whatever Umber is) wouldn’t vary its radiation output based on what season it was on Dust. The idea of a leaf that magically changes the frequency of light without scattering it is hard to believe. etc.

It’s also impossible to believe that the ancestors on Earth sent a load of paper books. Anything worth having would have been digitized and brought in the original ship. The ending of the story is crushingly sad because all those brave young people died for nothing, and that's very unsatisfying.

Other Reviews: Search Web, Browse Review Sites (Issue 137)
Carolyn Ives Gilman Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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