Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Opportunity Space, by Nathan Hillstrom

[Asimov's]
★★★★★ Rich Setting, Cool Characters, Great Action!

(Space Opera) If Kova can convince the Washe to sign the agreement with the Fiscality, she’ll save their species from extinction and advance her career hugely, but they’re reluctant to sign, her ship is under attack, and there’s something really weird going on. (13,020 words; Time: 43m)


"Opportunity Space," by (edited by Sheila Williams), appeared in issue 03-04|20, published on by .

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

Review: 2020.117 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: I love the universe of the Fiscality, with its notion of a “standard mind” that you have to convert to to gain access to all their technologies. It’s a rich enough setting, I hope we see other stories set there in the future.

I love Kova as a character; she’s very profit-focused, but she’s totally up front and honest about it. And I love the complex plot in this story, where Kova has one objective, the Washe have another, and Tulevuus has yet another—all of which gradually becomes clear as events unfold.

Kova wants to be successful and rich, but she also wants to show the natural-built people that a naturalized human can be just as good as they are. Again, the idea of the “standard mind” is quite impressive: we can “manufacture” humans who’re born with standard minds so they never have to undergo the wrenching change of being naturalized, and it’s not a surprise that they lord it over everyone else.

The Washe don’t want to be assimilated by the blight, but they also don’t want to be assimilated by the Fidcality, hence their secret scheme to convert Kova into the sort of ambassador who might truly understand them. Profit in particular is willing to die to save its people and their way of life.

The Jhor just want the access point, since it gives them access to thousands of systems. Whatever means are necessary are acceptable to them, consistent with their own morality, which seems to consist of nothing more than scrupulous rule following.

The attack from the blight (possibly an homage to Vernor Vinge’s “A Fire upon the Deep”) adds a great deal of tension and excitement to the story.

The biggest shock in the story is when we realize the reason Kova seems to be gradually losing control of the body the Washe made for her is that they keep swapping bits of her brain (the eyebundles) with their own. She loses control of parts of her body but she gains more understanding of the Washe, their culture, and their language. Her decision at the climax to simply dump all of her eyebundles into Profit implies another kind of death for her as an individual but also for Profit, and yet it’s the only solution that really satisfies everyone involved. She wins a great victory, but she pays a high price, even if she doesn’t realize it.

Con: I wasn’t clear why Tulevuus was trying to preserve the blight swarm at the end. Was it just the desire to keep applying pressure to the Washe?

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Nathan Hillstrom Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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