“A Girl Named Bright” by Veronica Viscardi
Reviewed by David Wesley Hill
“A Girl Named Bright,” by Veronica Vicardi, the first of two pieces of original fiction in this issue of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, brought tears to my eyes and I wanted to like the story (I’m sentimental) but I cannot recommend it.
The plot concerns a young girl, Bree, on an interstellar voyage, who stays young due to time dilation at near-C velocities while her best friend, Adie, ages back on Earth. This scenario was explored sixty years ago by Heinlein in Time for the Stars (in that novel separated twins communicated by telepathy; in this story Bree uses an “ansible”—an unexplained and uncredited linguistic shortcut). Unfortunately “A Girl Named Bright” adds little to our appreciation of such temporal tragedy.
Both the science and the milieu of the story are foggy.
On an interstellar journey, the most energy-intensive activities are accelerating and decelerating, but instead of heading directly to their destination, the ship makes “scheduled stops on the route.” Unlikely, unless they are dropping off people on different planets. Thus this is a plot device to allow Bree to communicate with Adie.
What are the chances the word humongous will be used by tweens in 2099? Very doubtful, considering the fluidity of the vernacular.
We are told that the world is suffering from climate change, “acid rain,” but when the shuttered windows are opened “for the first time since forever,” everyone enjoys the “fresh air.” More likely opening the shutters admitted a toxic plume of pollution into the house.
We are told Bree’s family, who are low-income estate (projects in the U.S.) dwellers, are “selected” to join the extra-solar colony. The fact that poor people are drafted to be interstellar colonists suggests that the selection is involuntary. Still, there are protests against the colonists, who are called “Drifters.” This doesn’t make sense. Even if they are departing voluntarily, the numbers are so small (500 per ship) that no one would know or care. In the U.S. many would probably thank them for leaving.
Adie tells Bree, “The Government redistributed all the Drifters’ houses. No point in keeping them empty.” Really? You’d think the first thing you’d do before leaving the planet forever would be to dispose of your home in a responsible manner.
I also doubt any child or adult would devote pages of journal entries to an absent friend (who is living a full life) while describing horrific experiences in one or two sentences, as when Bree mentions an on-board plague: “There was crying and the smell of poo everywhere, until the babies either got better or died.” That’s it.
I could nitpick the story further but I would rather praise it. Despite these logical and contextual flaws, the tale brought tears to my eyes upon multiple readings. Enjoy it as a good first effort by a new author who will do better once she takes her audience and subject matter seriously and does not rely solely on her innate story-telling ability for effect.
Apparently there are people in the world concerned about looking good while dying horribly. In the future created by the flash fiction, “Elements of a Successful Exit Broadcast,” by Stewart C. Baker, there is a list of dos and don’ts for survivors of hyperdrive accidents. This may be possible, perhaps plausible, but I question whether such instructions would include, “Record in a clean bunk, away from the burning, rancid horror of the bridge.” Speaking of which, I have never smelled burning human flesh but I suspect it would smell quite like a steak or chop cooking on the grill. Only after the fire goes out and the meat begins to rot would the smell turn rancid. That smell I know. I worked in downtown Manhattan in early 2002. Details count, particularly in a story of 200 words.