Monday, June 3, 2024

Life Does Not Allow Us to Meet, by He Xi / 人生不相见, 何夕(author), Alex Woodend (translator)

Published in Adventures in Space: New Short stories by Chinese & English Science Fiction Writers, Flame Tree Press, April 2023

At some point in our future, Earth has both a world government, and an interstellar space program. They've developed a faster than light drive, and have found some habitable planets.

Fan Zhe and Yelena are new graduates of the training program, and hope to soon be assigned to visit one of the new colonies, to assess how successful its development has been. He Xi is the older, experienced astronaut, who has himself spent some years on another colony world. He Xi soon reveals that he will be the leader of the mission Fan Zhe and Yelena are assigned to.

The reader also learns, though the new astronauts do not, that He Xi once had a lover whom he hoped to have a lasting relationship. Unfortunately, she was given a different assignment, the practical effect of which was that they would not be likely ever to meet again. FTL doesn't mean instantaneous, after all.

The planet He Xi, Fan Zhe, and Yelena are being sent to is a true water world, no land at all. Genetic modifications had to be made to allow the "pioneers," the first population sent to develop the world for habitation, to live there.

When they arrive at the colony world, they and we soon realize something is odd. First, this planet, due to an accident in space nearby, is late for its first assessment. They've been isolated longer than normal. He Xi initially goes down with only Yelena, leaving Fan Zhe on their ship, which is not normal procedure, but he doesn't explain.

The pioneers have made some unexpected decisions, ahead of schedule, and the master computer has released knowledge to them that is normally withheld until after a colony has passed its first assessment. And they're treating He Xi and Yelena as honored guests, not the authorities who will decide the future of their colony.

There are children here. There shouldn't be young children here.

There's a scandal here, and it's a disaster for the pioneers, though they appear not to know it.

That "appear" is the key word. Everyone--He Xi, Yelena, Fan Zhe, and a woman He Xi never expected to see again--have terrible decisions to make.

It's an interesting story, and I liked all the characters, including the one who...well, that would be telling.

This is a 2024 Hugo Awards Best Novella Finalist.

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