Strange Horizons -- December 17, 2018

Monday, 17 December 2018 22:16 Victoria Silverwolf

Strange Horizons, December 17, 2018

"Sequestration; Vitrification" by Allison Jamieson-Lucy

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

The protagonist of "Sequestration; Vitrification" by Allison Jamieson-Lucy is a scientist working on a project to genetically modify diatoms. The goal is to produce an organism that can transform radioactive waste into glass, which can be safely buried underground. Throughout the story, subtle hints reveal that the world is on the brink of a nuclear war. Only near the end does the reader learn the exact nature of the crisis.

The scientist's work is progressing slowly, and she believes there will not be time to complete it. When not at work, she spends time with her roommates, who are anti-nuclear proliferation activists; an artist, who produces works protesting the human cost of gem mining; and the artist's lover, who has cancer, possibly caused by an increase in radioactivity in the environment.

Some readers will be frustrated by the fact that the story reaches no final resolution. The war does not yet start; the scientist continues her work. This is more of a mood-driven character study than a plot-heavy melodrama. Although it is literary fiction, its scientific content is accurate and plausible. The characters come to life through the author's clear, elegant, and unpretentious style. The political controversies raised in the story are treated in a fair and thoughtful way. The activists are not stereotypical heroes, but realistically portrayed as flawed, complex people. The protagonist's ambivalent feelings about her work and the protests add greatly to the story's verisimilitude.

Victoria Silverwolf had a free meal at work today.