Saturday, August 11, 2007

Robert Reed's "A Billion Eves": A society with resources galore, but unfriendly to women

This extremely readable fantasy - occasionally turning into horror - would easily be on my all time best list.

Full text of this story is available online.

Story summary.
Two concepts are key to this story - idea of parallel universes, & a machine called ripper.

We are told our universe is one among an infinite number of parallel universes. New copies keep getting created at random times.

And you have a copy of earth in each of the parallel universe that split since earth was created. But depending on how far back in time the split occurred, each copy underwent a slightly different evolution. Also, because "movement of the solar system is a highly chaotic", these earths are not located at the same place in Milky Way - you see different stars at night! Some of these earths are uninhabitable, most have only primitive life.

While these parallel universes evolve independently, they are connected to each other along unfamiliar dimensions - allowing a sort of crossing.

Ripper is the ship that can make this crossing. It is a device that will transport everything in a spherical space of a certain radius around it to a corresponding place on earth in a parallel universe.

Ripper works by locating a random parallel universe, opens a channel to that, & sucks in some air from that earth so it can analyze whether that earth is inhabitable. If not inhabitable, it will try another one. If yes, it will move you there.

But there is a catch. Ripper works only one way. It has no way of remembering the universe it came from. So you cannot return!

Sometime in late 2020s AD, ripper was available on Old Earth (our current one) at many sites all over world.

A man called Owen, 29 years old, & a graduate student in physics, stole a powerful ripper from some place, collected a lot of supplies in a couple of trucks, parked these trucks near a girls hostel, & went to another universe! He effectively kidnapped these girls, 100 in number - the only man among them - with no way to come back. This theme of kidnapping girls to set up a harem in another universe keeps recurring in the story.

Of course, there is commotion when the girls learn their fate. Their matron, a very sensible 50 year old lady named Claire, takes charge. She convinces Owen that he would be dead as soon as enough girls are pregnant unless he behaves.

Over the centuries, the population on this earth grows, more rippers are made, more earths in other universes are populated - sometimes cooperatively, sometimes by similar kidnapping of girls.

Our story is set about 20,000 years after the original kidnapping. On an earth whose universe split 2 billion years ago, & now has a 5 billion human population. On this earth, Owen is now revered as First Father, & there are many other Fathers - presumably more kidnappers in line. There are a variety of religious cults built around these various Fathers, & their Wives.

Story traces 2 decades of life of a girl named Kala. She is 11 when we first meet her. Sandor is her brother - 2 years her senior, & plays a major role. Of her parents, father dies before the end of story.

Initially, we meet an innocent little girl. As she grows up, she develops interest in original life forms on this copy of earth - now under threat from pests that have come down the line from Old Earth. She will eventually become a researcher studying how Old Earth pests affect & kill local ones.

Over the course of the story, there are two attempts to kidnap her - by would be harem making men. In both cases, her brother successfully intervenes & saves her. In first case, she is 14 - he causes the man major injuries, goes to jail & family is shunned by this male centric society.

In second case, near the end of story, he kills the man & some others who helped him, takes their ripper, & is wise enough not to go to authorities. Eventually, we see Kala, Sandor, their mother, plus many like minded people leaving this earth for another one - to build a safer home.

Fact sheet.
A Billion Eves, short story, review
First published: Asimov's Oct/Nov 2006
Rating: A
Winner of Hugo Awards 2007 in novella category

Related: All Hugo Award stories.