Michael Swanwick. Starlight Express. (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September/October 2017)

Read in The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirty Fifth Annual Collection (Dozois, 2018).

A short, thoughtful story, which oozes class. The setting is a beauty, one which deserves being the basis of a book or books, rather than just a short story. Earth some millenia hence, is in reduced circumstances, having reached out to the starts, but the empire is fallen, and of the hi-tech which helped us reach out to the stars, it is no longer used, but still hums away under the streets of Rome : “Human beings had built such things once. Now they didn’t even know how to turn it off.”

People who wish to take their own lives will often step into the beam that will now simply dissipate them into the aether, rather than landing them on a far-flung planet. But the protagonist, Flaminio, witnesses a beautiful woman arriving. This is unheard of, but we find out, this is not entirely true, and the revelation about her nature (spoiler : she is ‘merely’ a duplicate of someone who arrived in the glory days of yore (Think Like a Dinosaur)), gives her pause for thought, and ditto Flaminio.

Quality writing throughout, and that setting, oh that setting.

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