Tor.com, February 2019
“Articulated Restraint” by Mary Robinette Kowal
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
This month, three science fiction stories offer visions of the far future, the near future, and a past that never existed.
“Articulated Restraint” by Mary Robinette Kowal takes place in 1960, but in a world with an advanced space program. There is a thriving moon colony and an active space station. Despite this background, the story takes place on Earth. The protagonist is an astronaut. Her current assignment is to enter a huge swimming pool while wearing a spacesuit. Underwater to simulate weightlessness, she works with a model of the space station. There is a real emergency on the genuine space station. The astronaut, under extreme time pressure, must figure out a way to deal with the crisis. Complicating matters is the fact that she has a badly sprained ankle. With no time to equip another astronaut, she runs the risk of greatly worsening her injury, threatening her career, in order to save the lives of her colleagues.
The author makes use of believable technical details to portray a very realistic alternate history of space exploration. The tense situation creates a great deal of suspense. The story will appeal to those who enjoy hard science fiction, as well as to anyone who appreciates a character of courage and determination.
In “The Song” by Erinn L. Kemper, workers on a large ocean rig harvest whales for meat. Before the story begins, terrorists destroyed a supply ship headed for the rig, killing everyone aboard and leaving the workers without relief. The two main characters are a welder and a scientist. They have both lost close family members to death. Together they discover a change in whale songs, leading to a major alteration in the animals’ behavior.
This is a bleak tale from beginning to end, without a trace of hope. Two minor characters, for example, commit suicide. The fate of the whales is no better than that of the humans. Although well written, with richly drawn characters, this depressing story is so grim that many will find reading it unpleasant.
The future world of “Old Media” by Annalee Newitz is a complex, high-tech one. One of the main characters is a young man who used to be an indentured worker. The other is a robot in human form. Most of the story deals with the man’s background, and with how the two of them came to live together. Watching an animated film from a previous century leads to an emotional encounter between them.
Despite a detailed, intriguing background, this is a simple, quiet tale. The setting could easily be the present, with the robot replaced by an asexual human being, without altering the basic plot. They way in which the man and the robot meet is melodramatic, and out of place with the rest of the story.
Victoria Silverwolf thought there would be a fourth story this month.