Michael Swanwick. Passage of Earth. (Clarkesworld #91 April 2014)

clarkesworld91The second story from Swanwick in a week or so, what a treat!

It’s online at Clarkesworld Magazine here, so best you read it there – it’s worth it. Some degree of spoilage will follow if you continue reading here…

The story starts off in a morgue, with an alien form delivered for dissection. There’s something not quite right, both in the fact that it’s delivered to an out of the way morgue, and also there’s some back history between the government official delivering the corpse and the pathologist. And the beauty of the story is that there’s some real depth in the human characters, to complement the depth about the alien visitors biology.

And indeed, the story gets into a lot of depth when the autopsy starts – a lot of depth, and there’s just a slight worry that the whole story will be a forensic autopsy approach. Not necessarily a bad thing, as I was reminded of that story of a while back where a story is identified from the weaving of a carpet. Now what was that story?? If only there was a website with a big archive of SF stories you could search for…. Hang on a second, there is. It’s Best SF and the story was Jean-Claude Dunyach’s ‘Unraveling the Thread’ (Interzone, and Year’s Best SF 4 in 1999).

But the story takes a massive twist, as the pathologist who has been trying to digest just what the alien biology means in terms of their intelligence, finds himself getting very, very close to the alien worldview, as he creates, in some memorable scenes, dialogue with his now-deceased loved ones, that provides him with a hugely reflective opportunity.

And as his journey concludes/restarts the reader has to keep a tight grip of reality(ies), as the pathologist, and the reader, find out exactly what is happening, and it’s a long way from where it started.

It’s an excellent story from Swanwick, and I’m putting it into the Pot of Contention for the Best SF Short Story Award 2014.

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