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.

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

  1. rastronomicals December 25, 2018 at 6:29 pm #

    Swanwick is of course a master himself, but in reading this story, I couldn’t help but think that it was written in tribute or just in the inspiration of Robert Silverberg.
    Swanwick is so well-rounded, you can’t really say the story and its setting is out of character for him, but. the story’s components are certainly those Silverberg returned to time and again: the Earth in its far future, the Earth now a backwater in a teeming galaxy that has mostly forgotten it, the Earth’s Great Cities, technology no-one knows how to use.
    Your mention of “Think Like a Dinosaur” was intetesting to me as I’d just the other day learned of it, but ” Starlight Express” reminds me more of “Sailing to Byzantium” crossed with “Nightwings.”

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