This week's stories are about the things that come at us out of the dark — be it the star-specked darkness of space, or the conscience-riddled darkness of our souls.
Plural by Lia Swope Mitchell | Cosmos Magazine
The aliens come in peace, as they always do, bearing gifts and a banner printed with hopeful messages. Universal understanding, sharing and collaboration, the usual thing: 300-year-old language cribbed from the Bebo time capsule. We install them in the quarantine tank and leave them alone. We're still processing the previous group.
The predecessors were large, their plump thigh muscles well marbled with fat. We're dressing them in herbs and slow-roasting them, and the flavour is good, rich and unctuous, the fibres softened by their long voyage in low-G. The rest we're making into sausage, confit, and stock. We've been lucky this year, with three groups since spring. Sometimes we go a long time without meat; at least real meat, better than the crawlers and birds, tiny dust-flavoured things full of bones.
These new ones aren't impressive, as aliens go. Maybe reptilian: small and sweet-fleshed. Ten forlorn figures in blue smocks, they sit on the sterile-sheeted beds and do not speak or gesture much, exchange only occasional glances. From this we conclude that they communicate telepathically. After a few hours, though, one falls ill, probably from some unfamiliar bacteria. Greenish saliva drips from its mouth onto a pillow. Soon enough they might all be infected, and already this is no great harvest.
Soylent Green, but in reverse! Humans do a lot of things when survival is not assured and resources are scarce. So it's not such a stretch to imagine that aliens will do the same. I like that this story flips several alien first contact tropes while, in the end, sort of remaining true to them as well. It's clever and sad all at once.
Slowly Builds An Empire by Naim Kabir | Clarkesworld Magazine
There was no need for talk in Tokyo, so the streets were silent.
The loudest features were the colors of the electric motorcars and the styles of the eclectic fashions—polychromatic shells that switched from lip-pucker lemon to cut-grass green and double-cut polymer skirts alongside old-fold silk suits.
Shinsuke Takinami stood above and apart from it all, teetering on the edge of a ledge and wanting to yell down below, but swaying silent and still. They wouldn't hear him anyway. Where his world was quiet, theirs was boisterous and noisy. Vibrant. Lively.
This story has so much to say about evolution, the ramifications of difference-based culling, and the communities people marked as "Other" form when society is oppressive. But it doesn't address these things as directly as I make it sound.
Those by Sofia Samatar | Uncanny Magazine
"He was a child, you know. Little more than a child. His father, whom George described as a 'holy terror,' had sent him to sea at the age of twelve, and George, whose nose had been permanently flattened by the fist of this same father, had set off gladly enough. The sea washed him to and fro for a number of years, with its cruelties and privations, the worst of them brought about by the men he served on ship after ship—for sea life is unkind to the small and weak, as I know from experience, though I was twenty when I left home for the waves. I was twenty, and tall, and broad, and George was a slip of a creature with gingery hair, and when we met years later in the Congo forest, natives of the same city, employees at the same plantation, I was thirty and solid as an anvil, and George, though the same age, was still a child. Was it because he'd been robbed of his childhood? Perhaps some men never grow old. What pleasure he took in our excursion to the tombs! He named his donkey Annabelle. He could whistle like a lark—it was his crooked teeth, he said. To think that George, even young George, is dead."
Samatar makes the reader work at this one, and you have to peel the layers away carefully in order to get at the best parts of the fruit. And they're worth it.
Which of these stories is your favorite? Any suggestions for next week?