Sunday, September 8, 2019

In the Stillness Between the Stars, by Mercurio D. Rivera

★★★★☆ Interesting, Creepy, and Ultimately Touching

(SF Horror) En route to α Centauri, the ship AI awakens a psychotherapist to help a crew member who thinks she’s seeing monsters. (8,813 words; Time: 29m)

Recommended By: 👍MHaskins+1 👍STomaino+1 (Q&A)

"In the Stillness Between the Stars," by (edited by Sheila Williams), appeared in issue 09-10|19, published on by .

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

Review: 2019.486 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: This manages to be both a horror story and a very human one. Emilio has to try to deal with the “monster” Angie is seeing but he’s also got to cope with his own guilt at leaving his ten-year-old son behind. Indeed, his very first thought upon waking is that Tomás is dead now—except, of course, he’s still a little child because it hasn’t even been one year yet.

The conversation between Emilio and Tomás is heartbreaking.
Dad? . . . Where have you been? I need your help learning to hit a curveball. Are you coming to my birthday party next week? I really want you to come.
If the monster really does feed on guilt, it has definitely found the motherlode.

Angie’s own guilt is easier to get around because there’s nothing she can do about it. Her husband and child died while she was having a fling with a much younger man, but she didn’t really cause them to die. Emilio, on the other hand, still has one last chance to make things right.

This is really the core of the story. The various things the monster does are almost secondary.

Con: Even if you accept the idea that info can be transmitted via gravity waves, it’s a little hard to swallow transmitting monsters that way. Also, given the extent of the malfunctions Emilio observed, I think they’d stop the ship at Pluto and do some thorough testing before letting it proceed.

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1 comment (may contain spoilers):

  1. I wanted to like this more than I did; it was an intriguing setup. Even setting aside the author's... let's call it optimism about the utility of gravitational waves as a medium for transmitting information, the various glitches and AI drop-outs are tailored to drive the plot. First Angie's file can't be accessed, then conveniently it can so Emilio can confront her over her lie. Other vital systems like communications become inaccessible. Despite the scale of malfunctions, none of the skeleton crew seem to be alarmed or make any attempt to contact Emilio. At one point the AI appears to become actively malevolent, and tells Emilio that all of the members of the skeleton crew are dead (which is a lie). He doesn't really react to this, and later the AI just says it can't remember that interaction. And even when it's completely obvious that Angie has become unhinged, and is planning to commit murder, the AI doesn't take any action to subdue her; it's not even clear that her access to ship's systems has been cut off. Finally, as you say, it's impossible to believe that after all this the ship would just be sent on it's merry 300-year way with no further investigation.