Sunday, September 13, 2015

"In the Garden with the Little Eaters" by L. Chan

My impression is that gray goo stories are passé at the moment, which means that the only people who would write them are either people who want to be fashionable but haven't caught up, or people who insist on following the sfnal impulse, the work, wherever it takes them, regardless.* To judge from the story before us (which technically — and specifically — is about blue sand rather than gray goo), Chan is the latter. The easy comparison is with Simak, and often in the story's first half I almost felt myself in his presence, the quiet, the contemplation, the loss, the painful disconnect from the past ("The Maker Machine could assemble books, but severed from the sea of information that existed before the fall, the pages were blank"), the melancholy grandeur that not only is not embarrassed to use superficially overwrought phrases like "Now, in the twilight of all things..." but also somehow knows instinctively that such phrases are precisely what is called for. But though there are appealing similarities, the sensibility here is all Chan's, not Simak's, and particularly as the story moves into its second, more eventful (though never action-packed) half, it becomes clear, if not easily articulable, what this means.

In the end this is a rare case of a wonderful, beautiful story that leaves me, not with nothing to say (all sorts of theorizing and investigation and explanation of Significance could be done here — around the garden, the bells, the music, the blue, the sand, the sleepers, the machine, the knife, the food, the memories, the birds in the distance, the collapsing buildings, the forest...) but with the desire to say little. The story exists, I have read it, and I will read it again; I want to be content with that.

*I could go off on a tangent speculating about the difference, which I'm increasingly convinced is enormous, between what I call the sfnal impulse and sfnal "ideas", but that might be better for another time.

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