“Party, with Echoes” by Patty Jansen
“Zeno’s Arrow” by R. L. Ferguson
“Ask Not” by Bonnie McDaniel
Reviewed by Mark Lord
In Patty Jansen’s “Party, with Echoes” Yuriko is a tour guide in the ocean of Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons). But this ocean is located underneath layers of thick ice which cover the surface of the moon. The Echoes of the story are bacteria that form shapes to imitate humans and other objects that they encounter. As a result, Europa is of growing attraction to tourists, and the story centers on the tour that Yuriko provides for an overweight executive by the name of David. He’s interested in the Echoes, but his interest is more than casual curiosity.
I liked the idea of the Echoes as an extraterrestrial life-form and the story is quite well-written. We get a good understanding of the central character and the discomfort she feels towards her client. However, I thought the central conflict upon which the story depended contradicted an assertion made earlier in the story. I also thought that the final twist didn’t work. “Party, with Echoes” was not a bad story, but it could have benefited from some more thorough copy-editing to improve the internal logic of the story.
R. L. Ferguson‘s “Zeno’s Arrow” is about a generation ship escaping from a dying Earth in search of a new planet to colonize. Each of the ship’s crew are awakened every few years to do their shift on watch (although why things aren’t automated to make this unnecessary is not explained). The protagonist of the story wakes to find that there have been a number of suicides on board. The crew-member on watch at the time, Andrea, explains that this happened after the ship lost contact with Earth. People thought the worst, Earth must have been destroyed. The story continues until they come to their Goal—the planet that they aim to colonize. Other faster, newer ships join them. They realize that Earth wasn’t destroyed—there was just a communications error. When they get to the Goal they realize there’s something wrong. The conclusion to the story explains how the problem will be solved.
Reading this was a bit like going back in time. But I was reminded of the bad old days of science fiction rather than treated to a reinterpretation of an old theme. There was very little tension, excitement or interest in the plot and the characters were fairly two-dimensional. A problem is encountered, it remains a mystery for a while and then lo and behold an answer is found and the narrator explains to the reader (via the trick of explaining to another character sometimes) what the solution is or what went wrong and why things are all right now. We don’t even get that much science, which would have at least distracted from the plodding nature of the story-telling. Instead, a hackneyed subject is accompanied by a hackneyed narrative style.
“Ask Not” by Bonnie McDaniel is more fun, and definitely the best read of this issue of Redstone Science Fiction. The main character is Lucy Stone, a cantankerous middle-aged lady beset by zombie door-to-door salesmen. She gets rid of these salesmen in the best possible way—with a Remington shotgun. Now as to why these zombies are after Lucy is a good question, and one I don’t think the story really answers. The theme of isolationism and survival is well told, but instead of wanting to get away from a world that’s gone bad, it seems that Lucy is hiding from a world that is too good. How zombie salesmen fit into that I don’t know. I enjoyed reading the story, but I was left rather puzzled at the end of it.