Thursday, September 2, 2010

Arkfall

Arkfall, by Carolyn Ives Gilman, is this month's free ebook at Phoenix Pick (coupon code 9991426). It's a beautiful little novella, set on a world where life exists only in deep rifts under a global, ice-capped sea.

The thing that the author conveys best is the strangeness of the world, from the inside. At "arkfall" all the arks, small vehicles modeled on a living cell, come into a station. As the ark of the main character, Osaji, approaches, we see the station as she sees it:
"Osaji's light-starved eyes, accustomed to seeing only the glowing surface of her own ark and any others that happened to be drifting nearby, savored the sense of space and scale that the glowing domes and refinery lights below her created. There was palpable distance here, an actual landscape.
It would have looked hellish enough to other eyes."

The customs of Osaji's world are described from her point of view as a "floater":
"The corridors of Golconda station were a shock to anyone fresh from floatabout. A floater's world was a yielding womb of liquid where there was never a raised voice, never a command given; floaters all went their lone ways, within the elaborate choreography of their shared mission. The barnacles' world was a gray, industrial place of hard floors, angles, crowds, and noise. Barnacles had to move in coordinated lockstep--cooperative obedience, they called it. They were packed in too close to survive any other way."

When an underwater eruption sends Osaji and a strange off-world man into unknown territory in an ark, their culture clash and the way they learn to work together and even appreciate each other comprises most of the rest of the story. The indirect way Osaji speaks in an attempt to be polite contrasts with the man's, Jack's, more familiar-sounding speech:
"Arks are not ships. We have no propulsion system"
Jack looked thunderstruck. "You mean you can't control this thing?"
"We can rise and fall. In an emergency, we can vent air from the sides. But we go where the currents take us."
"What if there's no current that happens to be going where you want?"
"Now the visitor understands our problem."

As the current pushes them entirely out of the Saltese Sea, the cradle of Osaji's civilization, she conquers her fear of the unknown enough to begin to explore, eventually harnessing one of their discoveries in order to get back to civilization and share what they've seen.

It's a wonderful journey. You should go.

4 comments:

FreshHell said...

I don't think I'll ever embrace ebooks. Unless mine gets published that way. :)

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, I'm not much for reading on a computer screen, either. I should have mentioned that the publisher sent me a copy--it's an actual book, available wherever books are sold...

kittiesx3 said...

I'll be reading it on-screen. Free is great and also the premise of the story intrigues me.

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, you're one of the main reasons I've been giving the ebook link!