Saturday, November 3, 2018

Cloudsong, by Nick Wolven

★★★☆☆ Average

(SF Diplomatic Thriller) Anander Flyte takes a years-long trip to the Kuiper Belt to sign a water treaty with the locals, only to discover they’ve had second thoughts because they’ve decided the ice is inhabited. (7,562 words; Time: 25m)

"Cloudsong," by (edited by Jonathan Strahan), appeared in (RSR review), published on by .

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

Review: 2018.624 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Each different variety of augmented human offers a different perspective on the puzzle of the vibrating Kuiper Belt Objects.

Ojami has unparalleled mathematical abilities, and her ability to see the patterns in data is necessary to show it's possible at all.

The Aesthete understands music, at the price of ordinary sanity. He's “a true genius . . . incapable of understanding how ordinary humans saw the world.” But he gives Anander the idea that the phenomenon they're seeing is art.

It makes sense that Anander himself is the third “interpreter.” He enjoys “uncanny powers of concentration, a talent for improvisation, and a certain clarity of mind,” at the expense of obsessing sometimes. Isolated, naturally he obsesses over the problem of figuring out what all this means.

He realizes that the Aesthetes embedded in the ice are making the other objects vibrate as a song to accompany their orbital “dance” around the sun, but he also sees that the inner system can still have most of the ice simply by joining the dance solves the problem and shows he really is a great diplomat.

Beyond the puzzle itself, I rather liked this description of the Darklings:
Darkling society and Darkling physiology favored the pleasures of intimate contact. They loved to cuddle, to huddle, to nest. A day in their life was like a group massage at an excellent slumber party.
On a minor note, the description of various factors that could influence the orbits of bodies in the Kuiper Belt was very factual. Always nice to see in a piece that has hard SF elements.

Con: Does this really solve the problem? Won’t the inner-system people use up all the ice in the Kuiper Belt? And will the Ascetics be okay with losing any of their ice? It's not like anyone has bothered trying to talk to them.

From a technical perspective, it’s impossible to believe that the water in the asteroid belt was so contaminated that it was easier to get fresh water from the Kuiper Belt.

Also, one would expect that over thousands of years (given the level of technology the inner-system people have), they would have placed thousands of probes all across the Kuiper Belt, out to the Oort Cloud, and even to the nearby stars. It’s not just a matter of what could be seen from the Earth; it would be what could be reported from all their probes. It's hard to see how any of this could still be a surprise to the Earth people.

Separately from the plausibility, I found it hard to relate to any of the characters. Anander seemed neither terribly bright nor very diplomatic, for example.

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