Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Year Without Sunshine, by Naomi Kritzer

Uncanny, November-December 2023

The world has undergone some kind of catastrophe resulting in clouds thick enough to block sunshine--and this is following several lesser disasters that had already created challenges for modern life. Not everything is cut off. Electricity is available several days a week. Medicines are getting hard to get, but authorities, apparently federal authorities, have made life-critical medications, such as insulin, a priority.

When the internet fails, Alexis and a neighbor, Tanesha, set up a booth they call WHATSUP, where neighbors previously communicating via WhatsApp can leave messages for each other.

We never get the details of what caused that dust cloud. Instead, we see Alexis and Tanesha, initially just trying to keep communication open so people can share information and get assistance when needed, becoming the core of a larger effort at mutual aid and maintaining civilization. People start going through their garages and attics for anything that might be useful. 

One house where they've never met the residents turns out to be an older couple, one of whom is on bottled oxygen. They have a generator to run the oxygen compressor, but they're running out of propane cannisters. The husband is good at carpentry--and that's a potentially tradable skill. Someone else has a nail gun, and carpentry skills.

Someone else suggests using broken bicycles to generate power, and someone else has the skills to make it work. And a lot of people have battered, unused bicycles.

Someone knows how to can food--and others have the means and knowledge to tear of pavement, till the ground, and start planting. Soon everyone has their own background gardens, and with time, stashes of canned food that might get them through the winter.

It's not all smooth sailing, though. They do some trading with other communities, though, and word gets around that they have plenty of food when others are running short...

It's a community coming together, with interesting and varied people sharing skills and resources. It's not conflict-free, especially when some of their neighbors become aware of their relative prosperity. Can they keep it together? Can they spread the success, or will violence win?

I love this story, this community, their personalities, and their resilience.

This is a 2024 Hugo Awards Best Novelette Finalist.

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