This issue of Residential Aliens is guest-edited by John Ottinger III. Billing itself as “speculative fiction from the Seven Stars,” ResAliens strives for science fiction with a spiritual bent.
We start off with “Fishing the Moons of Jupiter” by Jason Rizos. Morris tells the story; he is one of several fishermen turned miners boring through Callisto, a Jovian moon, in search of Hephaestus worms, who excrete gas and therefore provide a cheap power source for Earthlings, if the tough and wily beasts can be caught first. Everything goes as planned until Morris finds out that the worm he’s tailing is one that they tried unsuccessfully to snag before. It won’t get away this time, vows Morris, taking increasingly foolhardy action to capture the worm. Rizos uses an affable, hard-bitten, descriptive voice for Morris, drawing the reader in to a landscape of tough men, tough rock and tough worms. The in medias res beginning, as well as some echoes of Melville’s Moby-Dick in Morris’ fixed pursuit, creates an enveloping, well-crafted world, high with dramatic tension. A pity that it piddles out by the end, where Morris, after all that, acts in a casual and passive way that seems at odds with the rest of the story. Clearly there was supposed to be some sort of spiritual significance in the final scene, but I didn’t get it, even after two readings.
“Overgrown” by Stoney M. Setzer takes its inspiration from The Thing, the classic horror film about invading extraterrestrial vegetables. Exobotanist Dr. Braun’s experiment escapes, menacing brother Brady and sister Carla, who must fend it off. Along the way, through the viewpoints of the various characters, the reader learns the exact nature of the threat. Setzer’s predictable story is enlivened by multiple perspectives and a trite, but still lively, bickering relationship between Brady and Carla, who get the most screen time. I could discern a moral lesson here about the hazards of tinkering unaware with alien lifeforms, but nothing that struck me as spiritual.
At first I thought that “Immortals” by Leah Darrow would be about vampires, but no. It does, however, contain people who live virtually forever. Paul and Mina are lovers who, like most Earthlings, have practically unlimited lifespans, thanks to technology. They live in mutual intoxication until Mina wishes to become a mother, the success of which would lead to her prescribed death 40 years after her child’s birth. Paul resists Mina’s wishes and separates from Mina, hiding from friends and family until chance brings him a) his son again and b) a chance to be marginally less despicable. Both Paul and Mina come across as stock characters – he the overly self-involved, irresponsible father, she the woman driven by biology to fulfill her role as mother – while interesting avenues to sketch individual personalities were ignored. For example, Paul and Mina met when he was a young schoolboy and she was a teacher. How did that affect their relationship? We don’t know. While I appreciate the positive note and spiritual gesture at the end of “Immortals,” I feel that the rest of the story was underdeveloped.
In “End of Eden” by Shane Collins, Henry and Darlene wander a post-disaster planet, searching for other survivors. They stumble across a small colony in a warehouse and become part of the communitarian, hard-working group. Disaster inevitably strikes, with the implication that the rise and fall of colonies and perhaps civilizations is cyclical. Collins writes well, capturing the gritty desperation of Henry and Darlene’s life on the run, as well as the stupefyingly paradise-like nature of the colony that they find. But something is missing – emotion. In the reference to Eden, “End of Eden” brings with it a complex baggage of feelings – primordial bliss, lust for tempting knowledge, pain and shame at banishment – that do not find their way into the story. Henry reports events dispassionately, limiting readerly involvement with him and his plight. This promising scenario is limited by its mechanical execution.
“Salieri: An Untold Story of Griffin and Kemp” by Marina Julia Neary, told from the viewpoint of nineteenth-century medical student Kemp, follows the interwoven friendship and rivalry of Kemp and his roommate, the younger Griffin. Even as the two compete to outshine the other in brilliance, Kemp finds himself irresistibly drawn to the eldritch Griffin, who is closeting himself with weird experiments. Neary’s story, told in breathless, hothouse prose, bubbles with Gothic elements – Griffin’s eerie albinism, Kemp’s correspondence with Stevenson of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fame, Kemp’s unseemly passion for Griffin, intimations that Griffin is the Devil or possibly a latter-day Dr. Frankenstein – that keep the reader in suspense, wondering how such a fruitful mélange of elements will play out. Maybe “Salieri” will launch itself into a weird world of unnatural doublings, hidden passions and dire creations? No such luck. The story hurries to a climax – wherein Griffin disappears and his (practically unforeshadowed) secret is revealed – then tumbles to an abrupt, unresolved end, leaving us none the wiser about the causes of Kemp’s interest in Griffin or the reasons for Griffin’s research. Like “Fishing the Moons of Jupiter,” “Salieri” ends on a frustratingly opaque note.
“The King of Infinite Space” by Jason Reynolds begins, “The night before Pete found God, he was waiting in a bar for a girl named Violet Something.” Violet never shows, leaving Pete to melodramatic conjecture, a race with an anonymous driver on the way home, and a dramatic crash. The very end gestures toward how these events might propel Pete to find God. With its titular allusion to Hamlet and its great, casual yet portentous first sentence alluding to some sort of conversion experience, “King” casts itself as a weightier story than it actually is. Bracketed faintly by epiphany at the very beginning and the very end, “King” mostly comes across as a meandering exploration of dashed expectations, rather than an invitation to a character’s belief.
“Testament” by Michael C. Lea closes the issue and proves to be the best of the crop. It explores the aftermath of a brilliant scientist’s death in her attempt to communicate with the beings of a “baby universe” that she has created. Testimony from various characters draws out a tangled web of interpersonal loves and jealousies that contributed to Dr. Lukazic’s demise. Lea slowly layers the story from different perspectives, turning a woman who at first seems like a mad scientist into a devoted Creator. As much a character study as an examination of the obligations binding creators and their creations, “Testament” is a deft, thought-provoking example of “spiritual” sci fi. I would have ended it after the translation of Dr. Lukazic’s last transmission, just for maximum dramatic punch.