For the first five months of 2016, I posted an almost-weekly Strange Horizons retrospective, showcasing stories from my time as an editor there, a set of stories I called “flashbacks.” But then in late May of 2016, for no good reason, I ran out of steam. At first I meant to come back and post the rest of the ones I had planned, and then I decided maybe I was done; but a couple of friends expressed interest in seeing me continue, so I decided to pick it up again a year after I had stopped. Only then I missed that deadline too, and here it is a month after I had intended to start posting again. But I'm gonna give it another try.
So here's this week's flashback story. Mostly I'm trying to avoid providing any commentary about the stories until after the link and the spoiler warning, but for this one I feel like I should provide a bit of a content warning: this story unfortunately does some erasure of trans and nonbinary people. That was unintentional; but I regret not recognizing and addressing the issue at the time, and I suspect David does as well.
- “Planet of the Amazon Women,” by David Moles
- A man goes to a planet of women, to examine a causality anomaly. (Published in 2005.) (10,600 words.)
A century ago on Hippolyta, something called Amazon Fever killed thirteen hundred million men and boys. Hundreds of millions of women and girls died as well, slain indirectly, by the chaos that came in the Fever's wake.
No one knows now who started the Fever, or what they were trying to do: whether it was intentional—an attempt at an attack, or a revolution—or accidental—an industrial mishap, or a probability experiment gone awry, or even an archaeological discovery. But when it came it came suddenly, sweeping across Hippolyta in less than a year, in its progress less like a disease than like a curse. It defied drugs and vaccines and quarantines, brushing past exploration-grade immune enhancements as if they were so many scented medieval nosegays.
(See also the full list of Flashback stories.)
If I were editing this story today, after having read Ammonite and seen critiques of Wonder Woman, and with a dozen years more experience of knowing trans people and thinking about gender politics and religious politics, I would suggest some changes; and I suspect if David were writing this story today, he would write it somewhat differently. But I think it's still worth reading.
Among other things, I like the metafictional aspects of this story, the way that it takes apart and examines sf's handling of certain tropes, the way that it contrasts traditional-sf ideas of Manly Men In Space with more-recent-sf ideas about characters and gender and religion. For example, this bit:
They take their job very seriously, too, with a certain pride that they are the only ones in this part of the Polychronicon interested in the problem: the universe may be dangerous and chaotic and very poorly organized, but the Republic, and the Navy, are up to the task.
They're not, of course. The universe is so much more disorganized than these comic-opera astronauts could even imagine.
Which reads to me as commentary about science fiction as well as about the crew of this particular military starship.
I also like the kind of tech terminology and phrasing that David tosses off with such casual confidence:
simultaneity channels don't operate across the probability boundary
The inference engines, more delicate and abstract, I carry with me. They were made in Damascus, and their existence is largely mathematical.
Traditional technobabble about reversing the polarity of the neutron flow doesn't do much for me, but I love phrases like “simultaneity channels” and “inference engines.”
And I love the additional worldbuilding work that some other kinds of throwaway phrases do, especially this one:
I'm sponsored by the London Caliphate's Irrationality Office.
And a bunch of the implicit worldbuilding of the societies on Hippolyta.
In addition to the language and the metacommentary and the worldbuilding, I particularly like the ending of this story. The moment of wonder and revelation when Sasha/Yazmina sees the space elevator; the recognition that Hippolyta's history is also real; the final scene. Good stuff.