23 May 2009

"The Tomb Wife" short story review

Free Speculative Fiction short stories online.

Read it now : "The Tomb Wife"
Or listen here at Starship Sofa, Aural Delights 78
By Gwyneth Jones
First published in F&SF and now available at the author's own intriguing website.
Genre: Science Fiction
Word Count: 5,700 approx.

Gwyneth Jones writes writes teen novels under the name of Ann Halam. Her website tells us that she has won several awards and written several highly regarded novels for adults. "The Tomb Wife" is certainly a 2009 Nebula award nominee.

"The Tomb Wife" is a beautifully textured and thoughtful story about time and space travel. Principally, it is about the navigator, Elen, although she doesn't immediately appear in the story, for the setting comes first. At least it appears to do so. One's preconceptions may get in the way. For instance, this would not be the first time space travel has been portrayed as being too much for the Human mind to cope with, and so most travelers are in cold storage while a skeleton crew, referred to in this case as the Active Complement, keep an eye on things.

This is not quite the case in "The Tomb Wife". In this story, the Active Complement, while they appear to be doing nothing but sitting around talking with each other, are active. The programming is all in their communal wetware.

What makes it even more interesting is the idea of the ship travelling through space in another dimension, hanging still in a moment while the outside, seen by the navigator as a blizzard, rages around them. It's the consensual reality of the Active Complement that keeps the ship and its cargo together.

Discussing all this gives nothing of the story away, for it is just the background. A good SF story isn't just about an idea, it's about taking that idea and making it do tricks. (I recall Larry Niven saying this, but whether he was quoting someone else escapes me). In this case, the trick has to do with a ghost, the wife in the ancient tomb among the artifacts that the spaceship is transporting for an exhibition. Ghosts and time and therefore timelessness in a place that is hung between moments makes for a highly intriguing tale.

The story is available at a number of links, but the one I've used here is to the author's website where, if you use the 'back' link at the bottom of her page, you can find other thoughts and discussions of her's.

Morva Shepley

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