Rhett C. Bruno. This Long Vigil. (Perihelion Science Fiction, June 2015)

perihelion_juneOnline here.

I get a reasonable stream of requests from authors/publishers asking me to review their writing. Well, most of it is actually unreasonable, as they are asking me to read their SF novels (I only review short SF!), or, worse still, they ask me to review their horror/crime novels…

Rhett C. Bruno took the time to contact me to ask me to review his story in the latest issue of Perihelion SF. Normally I would decline the offer, explaining that I’ve got a big backlog of reading already and as I do aim to cover the ‘best’ in SF I therefore concentrate on covering the ‘top end’ of the magazine/anthology market. I also tend to find with new authors, they’d be better off asking for some writing tips or plot advice or similar, rather than a review of a story.

Kelly Jensen at SFCrowsnest thinks it’s the ‘perfect short story‘, and CellarDoor had tears in their eyes when reading it.

Myself, I wasn’t as convinced. Bruno sets up an interesting conceit : Interstellar Ark, Hermes is en route to a far distant destination, 999 humans in suspended animation. There is always one human alive to assist Ship AI Dan. The human Monitors are thawed out, serve a term of duty until they are 50 years old, then go back into suspended animation until they reach 70, when they are recycled. The protagonist, Orion, is coming to the end of his term as the human Monitor, a day away from his 50th birthday.

The struggle I had with the story was the central conceit – the operating model that relies on humans meekly serving their term and going back into suspended animation, to be recycled twenty years later, and the way this is handled in the story with the human, Orion, being extremely mellow about his imminent fate, and the AI expressing a bit of uncertainty as to the reason why previous human Monitors had elevated heart-rates in the hours before they returned to suspended animation (and death in 20 years time).

There are plenty of stories over the years, like Jim Kelly’s ‘Think Like a Dinosaur’ and obviously Tom Godwin’s ‘Cold Equations’, that address similar issues around the challenges to individual humans out in space. And Allen M. Steele has a couple of stories looking at the mental stress of the solitude on long space voyages. But Bruno’s protagonist goes through the story only mildly irked at his fate, and his main concerns are not wanting to spend his final hours doing ‘menial chores’. He does finally decide on choosing his own fate (up to a point), but unless he’s been dosed up on anti-depressants by the AI, you would expect just a bit more railing against the coming of the night?

But on the positive side, if I’d seen the story without knowing it’s source, I could almost have been persuaded it was a story from Analog.

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