A standout story to open the issue (and online here.
Kressel succeeds in that most difficult of things – creating an entirely non-human setting with which the reader is able to engage. The engagement comes through the lead character Aya, who is a ‘ball of prickling white energy’. She is one of a hundred thousand Farmers of the Branch, charged with seeking out disease in in her part of the beyond understanding enormity of a tree of life. For the fields of the Branch hold universes within universes within universes.
The reader’s engagement comes through seeing the world through Aya, who is someone who questions more than others, and she questions the nature of the task, and, at times, the necessity of the task, the ethics of weeding when that weeding condemns untold trillions of billions of galaxies and their inhabitants to death.
She seeks out the tip of the tree, a journey that takes her ultimately closer to the all-enveloping Expanse, which she finally has to embrace.
Kressel’s writing is excellent, and he creates an altogether alien setting without resort to fanciful word creation –
“Iridescent worms wriggled between massively overbudded realms. Spiky balls of baryonic matter clung to the realm tips, popping to release flashing rainbows of particle spores. Anti-matter spiders of a thousand legs pricked realms with their sharp proboscii and grew fat with sucking. The realms formed hoary palaces, gnarled labyrinths and raveled jungles so thick that even airy neutrinos could only travel but a short way in before hitting something dense and impenetrable. And over all this rolled furious particle storms, bathing the fangled corners with strange, brooding energies.”
All in all, a great read, and I’m putting the story on the shortlist for the Best SF Short Story Award 2015.