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Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Shiva in Shadow" by Nancy Kress

First appeared in Robert Silverberg's Between Worlds.  Reprinted by Gardner Dozois, Alan Kaster, and John Joseph Adams.


Ajit, Kane, and Tirzah have shipped out to far-flung territories to investigate a scientific anomaly. New stars are not where they should be. They are growing near a blackhole. They should've been sucked in by the blackhole. The interstellar dust should not have aggregated, but it has.

Tirzah is the ship's captain. She is charged with maintaining order, discipline and psychology of the scientists, Ajit and Kane. She feels in control until she learns that one crew member has an ulterior motive he plans to carry out. Jealousy and anger slip out of control.

Meanwhile, they have sent out a probe with uploads of the same crew members. This probe can get a lot closer to the new stars than the human beings as they are not alive, but they may lose their consciousness as they are more bombarded by radiation.

Analysis with spoilers:

This is not only a thrilling scientific adventure but also a literarily stimulating tale. I must admit I did not initially grasp the difference between the ship and probe. You may have to read cautiously at first. However, once you glom on to what Kress is up to, you should be impressed.

First, the descriptors are few but unnecessary. We know the ship. Instead, Kress focuses on the fascinatingly complex psychology of the shipmates and the uploads, and that's fascination enough.

Second is how these two narratives twine together to make meaning. The real humans kill each other off while the uploads, which are supposed to be simply copies of the real thing, turn out to be the ideal once they lose parts of their personality due to radiation. Once they lose parts of their personality they can do pure scientific research, the true goal, which suggests perhaps the humans may not be suited for their stated pursuits--their personalities get in the way. Very cool. A must-read.

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