Story of the Week: "Arkfall" by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Fantasy and Science Fiction has been having an amazing run of stories recently, as evidenced by the fact that my next two choices for story of the week are both from that magazine. While you'll have to wait for next week's selection, the current story of the week is "Arkfall" by Carolyn Ives Gilman.

"Arkfall" is set on an alien world which is so primitive that life has yet to evolve (or so the main characters think). With the surface covered by thick ice sheets, the human colonists live at the bottom of the ocean in pressure-adjusted domes. Because the area in which they can live--delineated by volcanic vents on the ocean floor, which provide both heat and nutrients--is so small, the humans have evolved a very non-confrontational, inward-looking culture. People are so afraid to insult or offend someone they use the third person form of grammar when speaking to each another, and the worse insult one can give is to say that "You" should do something.

Enter Osaji, a young woman who lives on a floater, a giant living ball of gas and skin which travels a circular route over the ocean floor. Osaji is responsible for her aged grandmother, who is suffering from advanced dementia. Because of this responsibility, Osaji feels that she has never had a chance to find her own way in life. Needless to say, things are about to change for Osaji. Due to the intervention of a natural disaster and an offensive off-worlder, she is cast adrift on a floater into a voyage of discovery like no other.

This is a wonderfully written story set in as unique a world as can be created in science fiction. I have long been a fan of Gilman's story "The Honeycrafters," which was nominated for a Nebula Award back in the early 1990s. This story rivals that earlier effort and will, I predict, be on the short list for the major awards.