Allen Steele is another author in the quite long list of writers I intend to read one of these days, so the opportunity offered by Tor.com’s short fiction section was too good to ignore: Sanctuary is the story of a colonization attempt, and its beginning, hinting at the mission of a sleeper ship headed toward an Earth-like planet near Tau Ceti, touched one of my favorite subjects, and piqued my interest.
(click on the link to read the story online)
The tale is told through archived documentation, in the form of ship’s logs, and immediately conveys the flavor of old history mixed with a bit of legend: when the twin ships Lindbergh and Santos-Dumont reach the target planet, the revived flight crew starts to collect data on what should become their new home. There are a few surprises stemming from direct observation, details that the automated probe sent scouting ahead did not record, like the thinner atmosphere and the higher gravity, but the officers keeping the logs seem to gloss over these difficulties, certain that physical training and medical supplements will help the colonists adapt, while the new generation born on-planet will certainly encounter less difficulties.
The biggest surprise, though, comes from the realization they will not be alone on Tau-Ceti-e, because clear traces of a civilization – albeit a somewhat primitive one – are unmistakable. Still, this does not faze the explorers, because the planet is so big they will find the perfect landing site that will keep the two groups apart, probably for a long time. Again, there is only optimism in these logs, and great enthusiasm once landfall is achieved – and here is where things start to go wrong, first in a very small way, and then in dramatic increments: there was one sentence from the logs that sounded an alarm bell for me, one that appeared like the warning it was once the reason for the troubles hitting the colonists became clear.
There is a fascinating dichotomy between the terse log entries describing the facts and the feeling of impending doom they inspire, and it’s one that carries the story forward in an enthralling way. If this is a good example of Allen Steele’s narrative style, I need to read more of his works, indeed…