SH Flashback: “Messengers from the Stars…,” by Grady Hendrix

Here’s the next Strange Horizons Flashback story:

Messengers from the Stars Will Come to Help Us Overcome the Obstacles That Hold Us Back from Achieving Our True Potential,” by Grady Hendrix
Voyager Sraosha is part of the Transhuman Project, and all of the Voyagers in the Project are about to Discard their human vessels to make Contact with the UFOs. But Sraosha discovers that she doesn’t want to die. (Slightly NSFW.) (Content warning for domestic violence and other non-consensual behavior; also for portrayal of a cult.) (Published in 2011.) (4,300 words.)

After calorie loading we performed Start Up Tasks. My Start Up Task was what Messenger called "Staging Area Policing and Waste Disposal," which was a fancy name for taking out the trash.

(See also the full list of Flashback stories.)




Is this speculative fiction? Although nothing happens in it (as far as we know) that couldn’t happen in today’s real world, I would say it has what Ellen Datlow once called “speculative sensibilities.” In this case, what I mean by that is that it’s viewing real-world activities through the lens of sf.

What I like most about this story is the portrayal of the protagonist’s emotions, and the ways that we readers learn about what’s going on with her at the same time she does; she thinks she knows how she feels, and then discovers that she doesn’t. I’ve experienced that kind of disconnect-and-reconnect with my own emotional state, and I think this story does a very good job of showing it.

I also like the nuance. She and Maion have genuinely found something that’s valuable to them in the cult; it’s improved their lives in a variety of ways. (If you ignore the part about their being required to kill themselves, I mean.) But in the end, she recognizes that what’s about to happen isn’t right for her, and he recognizes her right to bodily autonomy.

A friend and I were talking recently about 1960s feminist sf, and my friend noted that women in those stories sometimes discover that sfnal things (such as aliens) literally save their lives, perhaps in a way that’s metaphorically similar to the ways that sf can provide a lifeline of a sort to real-world readers. I think that’s a great point, and it makes an interesting contrast with this story, in which the sf lens would literally have killed the protagonist.

One more thing: I’m always impressed with titles that are as long as this story’s.

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