Elizabeth counted her stitches, then glanced up at Mara. Mara wasn’t looking at her tablet. Her eyes were closed, her lips moving slightly.
“Mara? … Mara!”
Mara jumped. She looked wary for a moment, then donned the innocent gaze of untroubled childhood. “Yes, Mommy? I was drawing.”
Elizabeth looked Mara in the eye and waited. Mara visibly weighed her chances of outlasting her mother, and surrendered. She laid the tablet carefully on the table. “Well, I wasn’t drawing just at that moment. I was– well, I was–”
“You were pretending again. About Levi. Pretending to talk to him.”
Mara Cadell lost her twin before they were born, but despite her mother’s admonishments, she continues talking to him as she grows up, and she’s not quite convinced that Levi is a figment of her imagination. As an adult, she becomes a scientist, and her own twin experience gives her the idea to raise human and alien children together — from the very womb.
As she woke up in the pod, she remembered three things. First, she was travelling through open space. Second, she was about to start a new job, one she could not screw up. Third, she had bribed a government official into giving her a new identity file.
None of this information was new, but it wasn’t pleasant to wake up to.
She wasn’t supposed to be awake yet, not for another day at least, but that was what you got for booking cheap transport. Cheap transport meant a cheap pod flying on cheap fuel, and cheap drugs to knock you out. She had flickered into consciousness several times since launch — surfacing in confusion, falling back just as she’d gotten a grasp on things. The pod was dark, and there were no navigational screens. There was no way to tell how much time had passed between each waking, or how far she’d travelled, or if she’d even been travelling at all. The thought made her anxious, and sick.
Having bribed her way to a new identity, Rosemary takes a job on the Wayfarer to escape the shadows of her past. She’s a qualified clerk and the work itself should be straightforward, but she’s never lived in space before, and moving onto a tunnelling ship is a baptism of fire, as the ship punches through space-time to create stable wormholes.
It starts on the 44th diurnal of the Year 1491, which on the planet Winter in the nation Karhide was Odharhahad Tuwa or the twenty-second day of the third month of spring in the Year One. It is always Year One here. Only the dating of every past and future year changes each New Year’s Day, as one counts backwards or forwards from the unitary Now. So it was spring of the Year One in Erhenrang, capital city of Karhide, and I was in peril of my life, and did not know it.
I was in a parade. I walked just behind the gossiwors and just before the king. It was raining.
Rainclouds over dark towers, rain falling in deep streets, a dark storm-beaten city of stone, through which one vein of gold winds slowly. First come merchants, potentates, and artisans of the City Erhenrang, rank after rank, magnificently clothed, advancing through the rain as comfortably as fish through the sea. Their faces are keen and calm. They do not march in step. This is a parade with no soldiers, not even imitation soldiers.
Genly Ai has come as the first envoy from the Ekumen to the planet of Gethen, known as Winter thanks to its deep-frozen climate. His is an alliance of planets dedicated to the exchange of knowledge and education. He comes alone, because “one voice speaking truth is a greater force than fleets of armies, given time; plenty of time; but time is the thing that the Ekumen has plenty of”. I loved this philosophy, and what it tells you about the (otherwise barely seen) civilisation of the Ekumen.
I knew when I saw the premise of this collection that I was going to love it. Published by Less Than Three Press, who specialise in LGBTQ romance, this is a space anthology with a difference: its five stories are centred not on important captains or interstellar mercenaries, but on the engineers and maintenance crews who keep the ships running.
These are sweet, gentle romances between believable men, interspersed with adventures unlooked-for and crises narrowly avoided. I loved the down-to-earth characters, and the focus on ordinary people living ordinary lives, albeit in a range of interplanetary settings. An excellent collection.
The Prince and the Programmer by Cassandra Pierce
Jasno is a food synth technician who is accidentally kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity. Jasno dreams of recreating special meals from the discarded recipe book he once found, and the prince responsible for his abduction spots an opportunity to use these exclusive talents to win over the target of his affections. Unfortunately for Jasno, he’s fast falling in love with the prince.
It was that hour of the game when sweat and blood began to rub together, skin sliding on skin, smudging the marks of allegiance and territory and leaving only the grav-band colours to identify the two teams. The audience was global and the cacophony shocking. Every drop and pull and sink was cursed and celebrated. A mosaic composed of myriad images of frenzied supporters enveloped the Wall in a hemisphere of seething colour. Players would occasionally look outwards into that mad, tilted sky and add their voices in shouts of triumph or fury, but for the most part they saved their breath for speed.
Adrenalin spiked high in players and spectators alike, pushed by the high risk and higher stakes. This was the best part. It was ruined by unfriendly white light flooding the rooma dn washing out the rich, broad holo projection of seventeen carefully coordinated school slates. Cries of dismay rose up and as quickly died down at the sight of the schoolmaster standing in the doorway with a tired expression on his face.
Rafi is born into a community that regards his psionic abilities with fear and suspicion, as something to be tamped down and — if possible — cured. Having grown up with the spectre of his similarly-talented father’s misdeeds hanging over his head, he’s afraid of himself, as much as society is afraid of him. We first meet him at the Lyceum, a special school that appears to have been set up with the goal of studying and controlling its pupils’ gifts. Unfortunately for those who would control him, however, Rafi is learning as much from his fellow students as from his teachers.
Maybe running for my life during a firefight with a squad of Corps soldiers isn’t the best time to be having second thoughts about my occupation, but I have to ask myself, why the hell did I become an arms smuggler? I could have been an engineer!
David vaults over a discarded tool caddy like a champion hurdler and I follow on his heels, clipping one foot on a drill and pinwheeling my arms to keep my balance without missing a step. This is a race where the loser dies.
Aly is a fugitive arms smuggler who thinks she understands her place in the criminal underworld she calls home — and which she finds, generally, a more ethical environment than the Admin-controlled mainstream society. Then her supposed colleagues abandon her and her brother when a mission goes wrong, and she starts to question everything she thought she knew about loyalty.