Saturday, March 2, 2019

Better, by Tom Greene

★★★★★ Sympathetic Hero, Entertaining Aliens, and Plenty of Surprises

(SF Adventure) After his injury in the war, Nick returns to Earth with just two days to live if his treatment doesn’t work, and part of it involves managing a group of incomprehensible aliens who’re supposed to be making toy dogs. (13,115 words; Time: 43m)

Recommended By: πŸ‘RSR+2 πŸ‘STomaino+1 (Q&A)

"Better," by (edited by Trevor Quachri), appeared in issue 03-04|19, published on by .

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

Review: 2019.107 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The title illuminates the story in several ways. Nick needs to get better or else the poison/infection will kill him in just two days. He also needs to get better at managing the morphos. They need to get better at working with Earth people or else they’ll be shipped out to yet another refugee planet. And, of course, the whole situation on Earth vis a vie the war needs to get better, somehow.

When Nick first introduces himself to the collective, he tells them straight up that he’s going to die in two days if he can’t perform “an effective act of altruism.” He talking about how to run the place, and they answer “we hear.”

As we learn from the way they care for the cat, they’re very good at figuring out what a creature actually needs. It’s fair to say that from the moment Nick gives his speech, the only think they’re working on is helping him.

We’re prepared for the idea that the morphos’ actions may seem irrational until you understand where they’re coming from. Nick’s realization that they needed to see he wasn’t like the pancakes makes a certain amount of sense. Joining them in adding random bits to their “maze” wasn’t the right idea, although his heart was it the right place, but showing that he appreciated art—even if only by thinking that destroying it would hurt someone—definitely showed he was different. That was a nice touch.

I really liked the worldbuilding too, even if it’s a rather grim world with only a little hope in it. The author does an excellent job of gradually filling us in on the pancake war without ever resorting to an infodump.

Con: I’m still not sure why Nick smashing that structure amounted to an effective act of altruism. If anything, the morphos performed an act of altruism, to the extent that they saw what needed to be done and they did it.

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