Bingo square: Travel
Ariadne O’Neill is an astronaut on an ecological survey of new worlds. First Aecor, then Mirabilis, Opera and finally Votum, before returning to Earth. She and her colleagues, Chikondi, Jack, and Elena, are able to travel such long distances thanks to torpor (basically cryo-sleep), where their bodies will keep ageing, just not as quickly as if they were awake. And their bodies are readied for their new environments during torpor, via a revolutionary method known as somaforming. They are given supplementations to their biology, to further withstand radiation, changes in gravity, lack of sunlight, etc. All of which can be undone/further changed for other missions.
Ariadne is speaking to the people of Earth, unaware of whether or not they will answer. Given the time difference between where she and they are, it could be years before she gets a response, if at all. And yet she details their mission and landing sites, gives an overview of the non-profit that was created globally to send the astronauts into deep space, and discusses the joys and difficulties of living in such small quarters (as well as the heartbreaking notion that they were leaving behind loved ones they would never see again).
This is a short novella and I think it would benefit from reading all in one sitting to fully immerse yourself in it and feel its emotional impact. I read it in tiny fits and starts and so it’s not my favourite of the author’s, but I think that’s my doing, not hers. The writing is just as beautiful and accomplished as her previous works, with its overarching feel of hope, even in the darkest circumstances. It’s hard sometimes not to expect the moments when it will all go pear shaped. Because this is space exploration and that’s mostly what I’ve seen before. Ah yes, this when the crew turn on each other, or this is when the aliens attack… But that’s not what this is, and it is so much better for it.
Even though it’s pretty short there’s a lot that’s explored here – the interactions of the crew (some that are in romantic relationships, although that’s not quite the right term for it. There’s no ownership or labels, and an especially lovely thing is how Jack is portrayed. He’s a trans man but that is revealed in a way that is such a non event. ‘Revealed’ isn’t even the right word for it. It’s not a moment that needs to be held up or shouted out); the questions of space travel and ethics, how much damage we can do in the name of exploration and discovery and whether that’s worth it; and the nature of communal responsibility, from the organisation that made this mission possible to the question that is asked at the end of the book. Certain things aren’t to be decided by one person alone, and we do better when we take on a collective responsibility. For ourselves and for the planet.