The Baen Free Library is a section of the Baen site where a good number of books is offered for free download, as a way to sample authors and their works. During one of my visits, I discovered the existence of a series of short stories collections, grouped by year of publication: as it often happens, anthologies can be mixed bags, but I found a few stories that truly caught my attention: in my next posts dedicated to shorter works I will review the ones that I liked most in this collection from the best of 2016.
I have long been aware of Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe series but never got around to reading any of the books, so this short story has been my introduction to it, and a very interesting one: if the glimpses I caught here are any indication, the Liaden Universe series is going to be an intriguing read.
Wise Child tells the story of a ship, a sentient ship being taught about itself and the world by a mentor: the society surrounding this small event does not look like a very nice one, since it appears from the beginning that mentors are practically slaves to some unspecified institute, that uses them – and uses them cruelly – to bend ships’ consciousness to the will of their future masters.
Disian, this is the name of the ship, has established what I can call a loving relationship with its mentor Tolly – impersonally designated as “Thirteen-Sixty-Two” by his masters – who has not only been instructing Disian in managing its awareness and in the technicalities of ship’s operations, but also imparting notions about ethics and compassion and art. It is because of the latter that, at the very beginning of the story, Tolly is being violently punished under the gaze of a horrified Disian, whose protocols bar it from intervening in any way. It’s in this instance that we learn all we need to know about this society, where appreciation of beauty is irrelevant, since “appreciation of work, and the simple pleasure of obeying its betters – these are the attributes required”.
What follows is both the story of an escape from exploitation and slavery and a coming-of-age journey for Disian, that learns the bittersweet price of freedom and adulthood, and the bloody one of independence. A captivating introduction to what promises to be a complex universe, and one I intend to explore soon.