Terraforming A Barren Planet — With Your Bare Hands

Illustration for article titled Terraforming A Barren Planet — With Your Bare Hands

Once again, the best thing in the current Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is a very political novella about spying during wartime. Like Robert Reed's "Five Thrillers," which we praised a few months ago, "The Political Prisoner" by Charles Coleman Finlay features spies, political turmoil and genetically altered human colonists at odds with the ortho-humans. This time around, though, it's a sequel to the taut spy story "The Political Officer," which F&SF has just posted online for free. Meanwhile, Maurizio Manzieri, who illustrated Reed's "Five Thrillers," has posted his full artwork. You can see a detail above — click through to see the whole thing.


"The Political Officer" and "The Political Prisoner" both take place in a future society of quasi-Russian religious zealots that have terraformed a new planet the hard way: with their bare hands. They're locked in a conflict with the Adareans, who have spliced non-human DNA to allow them to do things like photosynthesize (much like the enhanced Rebirths, in Reed's "Five Thrillers.") In "the Political Officer," which is on the F&SF website, Max is a propagandist and spy, sent aboard a spaceship to spread the official party line and keep tabs on the Education Department's rivals, the Intelligence Department. It's very Gogol-esque. The ship is on a spy mission against the Adareans, but then it comes across a trade ship sporting some new technology that could give the humans an edge in their coming war against the Adareans

In the sequel, "The Political Prisoner," Max comes back to Jesusalem, just in time for the battle between Political Education and Political Intelligence to heat up. He's caught on the wrong side of things, and winds up part of a purge of Political Education supporters. He's bussed out to a gulag, where he and his fellow prisoners are terraforming a new section of the planet, just like their religious zealot ancestors did. It's incredibly rough work: carting rocks out to the ocean, and then carting back a ton of seaweed to help fertilize the dead ground. It's not at all the way you picture terraforming, with huge machines or glowy lights. But it's probably closer to the way actual terraforming would go. Max is forced to live among the Adareans and starts to understand more of their hybrid culture. It's a worthy sequel to "Political Officer," and a worthwhile read in its own right, despite a slightly disappointing ending.

Illustration for article titled Terraforming A Barren Planet — With Your Bare Hands

And here's Maurizio Manzieri's full illustration for "Five Thrillers." His blog includes a slightly larger version, plus an illustration showing the work in progress versus the completed work. (See link below.) [Maurizio Manzieri and The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction]


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Really liked the first story (read it in a best-of-year anthology); will have to read the sequel.