Reviews

Short Story Review: WEATHER (from Galactic North), by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space trilogy is one of the most intriguing (and challenging!) reads I ever encountered, but it happened several years ago so that time has blurred my memory of it considerably, and the complexity of the narrative context in which this space opera series is set made it difficult for me to retain more than a few of the myriad details of that multifaceted tapestry.  A re-read is something I might enjoy one of these days, and I think this collection of longer stories from that same universe might be the best way to re-introduce myself with the characters and the wide, sweeping background they are moving in.

Weather is a novella-sized tale exploring in more depth the hostility between the Conjoiners and the rest of humanity, even that part of humanity that has chosen to meld flesh and machine: the Ultras, another of the factions in which the human race has fractured itself, combine mechanical and organic parts, either to augment some capabilities or to replace lost limbs, but they leave the mind well alone, finding the Conjoiner way of life beyond repulsive.

This story takes place aboard the Petronel, a cargo ship being chased by pirates: after a long, nerve-wracking pursuit, the Petronel’s crew chooses to stand and fight and, quite surprisingly, they get the best of their hunters, who have run afoul of some wandering space debris.  As they board the pirate ship to salvage equipment for repairs, the crewmen find a Conjoiner girl who had clearly been a prisoner and, not without some difficulty, take her aboard the cargo at the insistence of Inigo, the shipmaster, and against the objections of Captain Van Ness, who is highly distrustful of Conjoiners.

The two men have enjoyed, up until now, a close relationship borne of trust and mutual respect, but Inigo’s insistence in trying to deal with the girl – named Weather as a way to simplify her complicated designation – as a human being instead of a dangerous monster, drives a wedge between shipmaster and captain, to the point that the fracture seems impossible to reconcile. Only the danger presented by the failing drive – a Conjoiner model – will convince the captain to trust Weather, up to a point, and let her try to repair it so that the Petronel can reach its destination in time.

The rift between Conjoiners and the rest of humanity is represented here in all its bitterness, the past misunderstandings and troubles so deeply rooted that even the passing of time seems unable to lessen them, and Inigo finds himself trying to walk the fine line between two opposing feelings, while the story reaches its inevitable, bittersweet conclusion.

 

My Rating:

20 thoughts on “Short Story Review: WEATHER (from Galactic North), by Alastair Reynolds

  1. Well Maddalena this hints at other misunderstandings in the past when men believed women had no soul and were not better than donkeys or times of slavery etc. Interesting as the old issues get transposed in a scifi novel!

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    1. It’s not so much a problem of gender difference as a problem with… well, life choices: the Conjoiners are feared because they tamper with their mind’s abilities by creating a sort of group mind and therefore considered a threat to mental individuality. Even physically altered Ultras – despite often being more machine than flesh – see Conjoiners as less human than them.

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  2. I first read this short story (or novella) a few years ago, but only after I had read most of the other then-published Revelation Space series fiction, including the short fiction. Was I surprised when I realised just what a powerful (if minimalist) story this really is ! Even now, a few years later, it remains one of my favourite bits of short fiction from Reynolds’ well-established universe. Loads of further little insights into the Ultranauts, Conjoiners, but what stands out to me particularly is the simple humanity at the heart of the whole story. Outside of the more action-focused prologue, it’s a character piece through and through. Of the best kind. Not sentimental and cloying, but also with a keen eye for the fact that, even with transhuman augmentation, humanity in the future is still the same old species. With its highs and lows, kindness and prejudices. Interesting story that serves as a bridge between the earlier, Solar System focused stories, and the later Yellowstone-focused stories and Inhibitor stories of Reynolds’ universe.

    Funnily enough, I consider this story to be the one… “fairytale” (for lack of a better term) of the whole Revelation Space series. The wounds and wrongs of the past are brought to the fore on a sample of a few everymen and everywomen of the different factions, but rather than nothing changing, these people are finally afforded some hope. A single rescue, out of simple kindness, eventually leads to a friendship, then a willingness to help repair the ship, and also an effort to reveal the full truth about the past to an emotionally long-suffering character. (Talking in riddles here, not to spoil too much.) What Inigo, with that humble and unheroic kindness of his, sets in motion, is remarkable to read about. And if you think I’m exaggerating with the fairytale comparison, the very ending has the vibe of a more hi-tech and more feminist take on Sleeping Beauty. Back in the day, I sniggered when I realised the parallel.

    As much as I dislike using fan-speak acronyms, if there is any OTP (“one true pairing”) in all of literary SF, then Inigo and Weather are that OTP. At least for me. They were mature, professional, emphatic and tender to each other, awkward, funny, even cute. Wonderfully complex but believable characters in a relatively brief narrative space. Regardless of whether one sees them as something of a romantic couple, they’re a very interesting and likable duo of once-lonely-and-wounded individuals who become good friends. This story doesn’t need a sequel at all, whether by the author or in fanfic, but I like to believe the two of them found their happiness after they reunited in the future and fulfilled their duties first. I felt they earned it, in all senses of the word.

    I’ll say without shame that this particular story also speaks to me on a personal level, somewhat. I share plenty of feelings and attitudes with Inigo, and I know and love a lovely young lady who’s much like Weather. Non-neurotypical, rather than Conjoiner neuro-implant-equipped, but also of similar wounds and disappointments (brilliant and kind, but recovering slowly though successfully from BPD, and has suffered abuse once), and even of a remarkably similar appearance. I wish I was joking on that last point… (Not that long ago, she showed me an artsier B&W photo of herself, wearing this thin black jumper with a bit of a neckline, her shorter hair tied in a bun, slim figure but athletic shoulders, a gentle but serious look on her face, with a gentle little chin. If she had a Conjoiner crest instead of hair and olive eyes instead of her grey-blue, she’s be the spitting image of that Conjoiner character ! :-O I complimented the photo with “Yay, you’re pretty and quite mysterious…”, but at the same time, I thought “Goodness, that’s almost exactly Reynolds’ description of Weather. If they ever made a screen adaptation, they might as well cast her.” A strange experience to say the least. Life imitating art ? I’ll admit that whenever I reread the story nowadays, I always imagine the two characters with her and my visage. Fiction can become oddly personal at times…)

    Even if one prefers the more grandiose, action-y, macabre or any other stories from the Revelation Space series, I feel this short fiction piece is a good little gem. Well worth the read. Anyone who’s got at least a bit of a heart in them will feel chuffed once they finish reading, I can guarantee that. I’ve always felt the love story aspect of the story wasn’t necessarily just about the main duo, but also about the love and humanity on display, the willingness to revisit historical memory and its traumas, and start healing them.

    Good luck with the blog. Keep writing. Have a good 2020 !

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    1. Thank you for stopping by and for your very articulate comment!
      Indeed, this is one of the more human-oriented stories in Reynold’s universe, portraying in a short space and in few words the inner conflicts that have been troubling humanity in its various forms – the baseline humans, the Conjoiners, the Ultras and so on. I loved how it shows that some kindness and empathy might be able to bridge the chasm, if only people were ready to accept each other’s differences and to put past misunderstandings at rest.
      One of these days I have to find the time to re-read the whole Revelation Space series: the new insights I’ve gained with these short stories will certainly help in better appreciate the narrative arc. 🙂

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      1. Hello, Maddalena. Thank you kindly. 🙂 I wasn’t expecting a reply.

        As I read the RSU short fiction, after having read the non-Prefect novels and novellas, a lot of previously hinted-at details did click into place for me as well. I think Reynolds has done a good job with giving his series the feel of a true future history. Which is not easy, as he himself noted in the Afterword of Galactic North. When it all comes together, though, it can be a wonderful and thought-provoking setting. With some 20 works currently existing in this series, I feel he still has a lot of blank spaces he can gradually fill in over the years.

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        1. The Prefect stories are still missing from my Reynolds reading, and I hope to be able to get to them in the near future: what I read of the overall theme sounds interesting, and I would not mind some more additions to this intriguing universe. Not to mention that I would love to find the time to re-read the Revelation Space books… 🙂

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