I got hold of a copy of this amazing novelette (I think? 17,000-ish words) from one of Galactic Suburbia’s wonderful listeners, who is the Editorial Director of a new digital publisher, Snackreads – he sent through a copy because he thought it would be up our collective alley. To which the answer, I think, is OH YES.
A future where there are space ships carrying cargo between planets as easily as trucks do today… but where there is, for some unknown reason, a societal reaction (on some planets) against women having the freedom of movement to do things like be in space. Dee has taken over a freighting company from her formidable aunt, but is facing difficulties in the shape of her sister, her sister’s husband, and mounting debt. When she has to land on New Niger, things appear to be as desperate as they can be, so she ends up making a deal with a competitor… and things go from there.
The things I love about this story are many: I love Dee’s voice as she makes clear just how much it means to her, to be a pilot, and just how much she hates the idea of being trapped by her brother-in-law. I adore the idea of New Niger (although I must admit I don’t know how accurate Charnas is in her descriptions of Old Niger, and it may well be that there are some things that are offensive/otherwise wince-worthy, and if there are I’d love to hear it) – people of colour in space! Who would’ve thought it! I particularly love (although see previous brackets) the way that one character there, in particular, plays on racial stereotypes very consciously to her own advantage. The denouement had me quietly cackling with glee. I enjoyed the pace of the narrative, the action overall, the ‘domestic’ setting (family feuds) commenting on larger social realities…
I should get me some more Charnas to read, I guess.
I’ve been wanting to read more Judith Merril since Helen Merrick’s Secret Feminist Cabal, since Merril features pretty prominently in the early years. The lady wrote “That only a Mother could love” – a seriously amazing piece of fiction that I’m sure Russ would have dismissed as ‘galactic suburbia’ but I think is staggering in its suggestion about life for the ordinary woman in The Future.
Anyway, “Exile from Space” – the basic story is young woman going to the city for the first time, but there’s clearly something a bit odd about this young woman because of how she talks about her education, and about other people… and it quickly becomes apparent that she has not been living with other humans, at least for her teen years. So although she herself is human and passes for human, she has to deal with all these weird things like eating, and shopping, and interacting with humans – such that she might as well be an alien. Oh, the many levels of ‘alien’. And then, of course, there’s a man…
Merril’s writing is delightful and elegant, and conveys the sheer weirdness of human existence simply and clearly. So many things we take for granted…. This story makes me wish I could find more of Merril’s work, but I keep coming up with nothing wherever I look. I got this story from The Gutenberg Project.
You can also see the full shortlist, complete with links so you can go and check out the awesomeness of everyone for yourself.