Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chris Roberson's "The Sky is Large and the Earth is Small" (novelette, non-genre): Well told story, but with very dated plot

This is not a bad story; I quite liked it. But

  1. It is not sf, however much you stretch the definition.
  2. Plot is several centuries old.
This is the story of European Renaissance - when modern was just poking tentatively at medieval. Only the story is set in China rather than Europe. I found it easy to understand, even when settings were completely unfamiliar. Someone from China will have to comment on authenticity of settings, though; I am not qualified to judge that.

Story summary.
Ling Xuan is a very old man, & has been in prison for over 50 years without conviction for having angered some minor givernment official for something or the other. That has been more than half his life!

Of this imprisonment, he spent a year with Bureau of Suppression and Soothing - the torture cell of local cops. No one could get any worthy information out of him. Now he is essentially left alone.

In his youth, this man had traveled a lot. Among his journeys was one across the Pacific to "Mexica". He even had written a monograph: "A Journey Into The East, To The Lands Which Lie Across The Ocean, With Particular Attention to the Mexica, by Ling Xuan, Provincial Graduate". That monograph is now lost; only its mention survives in official records.

Emperor is considering raiding Mexica. Twenty year old Cao Wen has been assigned the task, by Minister of War, of preparing a report on all that is known about Mexica that can have a bearing on this adventure. It is during this research that Cao encounters the mention of the monograph, & accidentally discovers the whereabouts of its author.

Much of story is about Cao's attempts to make the old man speak. A very small part is where the old man actually does speak, & tells us what he saw in Mexica.

An even smaller part is about Cui, an astronomer now dead - who became a friend of Ling in prison. Cui was imprisoned for heresy. He had "made a frightening discovery. Our world is not, as we have always believed, the center of the universe, with the Sun, Moon, and stars twirling around us. Through a careful study of the heavens, Cui came to realize that, in fact, our world was just one of many, all of which circled around the Sun. What is more, he claimed that the stars themselves might be other suns - out in the distant heavens. Perhaps a small fraction of those other suns might have worlds of their own, and some small fraction of those might be peopled. We might not be the only beings in creation able to look upon ourselves and wonder.”

Collected in.

  1. Gardner Dozois (Ed)'s "The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection" (2008).
Fact sheet.
The Sky is Large and the Earth is Small, short story, review
First published: Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2007.
Rating: B