Monday, April 19, 2021

The Mermaid Astronaut, by Yoon Ha Lee

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue #298, February 27, 2020

Essarala is a mermaid, whose chosen name means "seeks the stars." This expresses her desire, her ambition, and is a very unusual choice among her people. for whom her younger sister's name, Kiovasa, meaning "the sun and the moon are partners," is far more typical. But Essarela watches the stars, whenever she can, and is thrilled when a starship arrives with offworld traders.

She's thrilled, initially, and plans to ask if she can sign on to their ship, until she realizes that all the species that crew that ship are land dwellers, and there's no water for her to swim in. When her sister encourages her to ask the witch of the sea to help her, though, the witch offers her a knife that will enable her to transform her tail into legs. There's a price, though, and the witch will not tell her what it is until she eventually returns, and brings the knife back to her. Essarala accepts, but privately thinks she's never coming back.

The ship's captain agrees to take her as his most junior crew member, and Essarala sets off on a journey that's physically and mentally challenging, educational, revelatory--and ultimately, she grows, changes, comes to understand the cost of relativistic star travel, and makes a decision she couldn't have imagined when she left. It's a story of exploration, openness to diversity, inclusion, and the importance both of travel, and of home.

It's told in a tone reminiscent of a fairy tale, and includes some elements that certainly seem magical, while others are more clearly science-fictional. The characters are well worth getting to know.


This story is available as a free read on the Beneath Ceaseless Skies website, and I am reviewing it voluntarily.

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