Sunday, August 5, 2018

Canoe, by Nancy Kress

★★★☆☆ Average

(Exploration SF) The first human interstellar mission finds an icy moon that might host life. (6,450 words; Time: 21m)

Recommended By: GDozois+2

Although this was originally published in the UK in 2017, the first US Publication was in March 2018, so it should be eligible for the 2019 Hugo Awards at the 2019 WorldCon, to be held in Dublin.

"Canoe," by (edited by Nick Gevers), appeared in (RSR review), published on by .

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

Pro: What makes the story memorable is the desperate situation of the aliens, who may not survive long enough for us to rescue them. As far as the plot goes, Rachael wants to find extraterrestrial life, but she finds intelligence as well, and she patches things up with her teammate too, which is about as close to a happy ending as it can get.

 “Sina and the Eel” is a real story from Samoan mythology. “E pupula mai, ou mata o le alelo!” means “You stare at me, with eyes like a demon!”

Con: None of the characters gets much development, and none of them does anything particularly noteworthy. They do their jobs and are witness to something amazing, but that’s all. It feels as though this might be the prologue to a much longer story someday, but it’s rather thin by itself.

For a hard SF story, this one has a lot of scientific details that are hard to believe:

First, It’s impossible to believe they’d send a human mission before sending probes, and the odds of finding an intelligent race just a few decades before its extinction are really remote.

Further, a planet can’t just get tired of orbiting its star and then wander off into space.

Given how far Canoe must be from the two dim primary stars, it’s very hard to believe its departure will have a measurable effect on its moon. Not only will the locals not go extinct, they probably won't even notice.

Finally, The meticulous description of the masses and orbits of the stars is messed up. Two stars, 3 AU apart, orbiting a common center of mass every 24.3 years must have a total mass of 0.046 (Sol = 1), but the larger of the two is described as having a mass of 0.05 all by itself, and the smaller cannot be lighter than 0.012 or it wouldn’t be a brown dwarf.

Other Reviews: Search Web,
Nancy Kress Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

Follow RSR on Twitter, Facebook, RSS, or E-mail.

2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I rolled my eyes at the ridiculous astronomy (the planet just suddenly wandering off), but what really killed my SoD was the make-up of the crew. Are we supposed to believe that they didn't do any psychological testing? Peter is a racist and Rachel has severe anger management issues. I can't believe anyone would put them on a mission like this.

    1. David Brin sometimes talks about authors getting lazy and doing things that don't make much sense in order to get conflict into their stories. The "idiot plot" is probably the most extreme example, with the evil government/corporation a close second. But the strategy of having an important mission staffed with an utterly unsuited crew is one I've seen quite a few times now.