When I was young the first movies my parents forbid me from watching again and again and again were the three original Star Wars. I practically wore the VHS cassettes out and still have every line memorized. I lived in a conservative Christian household where the bookshelves were full of My Bible Friends, (which are great for teaching symbolism, I suppose) basic cable, and a no TV on Sabbath rule was strictly enforced. I often heard the nagging line, “That (show, movie, etc.) has no redeeming feature,” a nod to the long shadow of our faith, which seemed to impact even the most mundane decisions. It’s no wonder that these action adventure movies masquerading as science fiction drew my attention. The repeated tests of faith for young Luke Skywalker, and the power that he gains as a result, were an intoxicating combination for a mind shaped by the constant bombardment of orthodoxy.
So how is it that while reading Kameron’s Hurley’s Meet Me in the Future, a devastatingly effective collection of short stories by one of the day’s leading science fiction writers, I find myself contemplating both the effect of Star Wars and the elusive redemption my parents always sought in entertainment?
Perhaps it’s because Hurley’s work shares the best qualities as Star Wars. Each story is set in far-off worlds and moves quickly, driven by events as much as characters and told in clean prose that the casual reader will enjoy.
Or maybe it’s because of the fish. “The Fisherman and the Pig” to be precise. The second story in the collection featuring Nev, a body mercenary capable of jumping into and reanimating corpse after corpse upon death (perhaps in a nod to Altered Carbon), the story picks up Nev’s journey after he’s spent the last seven years in a hermit’s body, living alone with a pig and a turtle, fishing for another corpse to inhabit just in case his current one gives out. But no corpse, no problem. He catches a few beautiful trout and in a turn of luck, is offered the chance to sell someone else’s fish alongside his own for a generous profit in the market.
When he gets home and feeds the stranger’s fish to his pig, he immediately realizes that they have been poisoned, the chemical smell of a poison he once encountered on a battlefield. To say that he is upset at being used is an understatement. He must inhabit another body and the pig, thinking its owner died, refuses to recognize the displaced soul of his old friend, Nev. Righteous vengeance ensues.
Like all of the stories in Hurley’s collection, “The Fisherman the Pig” seems to contemplate a philosophical question, or questions in this case. What remains of our soul in our bodies after we die? The strange chemical he encountered before is designed to kill someone, then bring them back. The perfect weapon to oust a body mercenary–without a body, where could a soul go?
It asks other questions as well. If some part of us is immortal, without our skin, how will our loved ones recognize us? Despite being spiritual/agnostic, I wondered, if we’re supposed to be fishers of men in this life, saving men’s souls as I was taught, in the afterlife, will we fish for bodies?
What would lead to such unique questions, poised and reasoned so eloquently in the stories in this book? One has to look no further than the introduction for answers. Hurley speaks of her motives and daily operations as a writer with poor health insurance in the US, detailing how the “fight with [her] malignant, malfunctioning body and experience running that rat maze of the United States healthcare system has bled into [her] work in interesting ways.”
Interesting ways, indeed. Just like in Altered Carbon, different bodies come equipped with different features, different abilities. When one can jump from one skin to another, what is left of us? Certainly not our abilities. It’s laughable to imagine Tom Brady becoming a first ballot hall of famer in another body, and yet there must be some core that is us. If not, why would so many faiths center on the idea of persisting in another form?
That Hurley sees “Messy, bloody bodies” instead of “sterile metal spaceships” should surprise no one after reading these stories. In “When We Fall” someone literally falls between docked spaceships, becoming enmeshed in the hull of an organic warship. Brutalized by tonnage and concussed, the main character speaks to a strange disembodied woman as the rescue effort mounts, developing the first real connection of their life after being abandoned as a child. It’s nearly love at first sight. Once freed, they learn that the organic warship they were enmeshed in generated an avatar, something not human. But the main character can’t shake it. After a monumental effort, they eventually reunite when the ship shirks its duties as the arbiter of death.
“Societies often forgets people like me. They forget the people who fall between the seams of things.”Kameron Hurley–“When We Fall”
Again a question, if there was a sentient organic warship, could there really be such a thing as an organic war?
The questions keep coming. In “The Red Secretary” War is a machine that never stops, but when it is finally turned off, will it be the peace that finally kills us?
In “The Sinners and the Sea”, a story that reverberates with the sorrow of reeducation camps, we wonder not just how much the constructs of our reality are based on the lies of our forefathers–the winners that get to write the history books–but whether or not we would be prepared to accept the facts, disavowing the knowledge of our senses and a new epiphany in favor of the comforting falsehoods that have swaddled us since we were babies.
When a world is ending, whether it is covered in water from melting ice caps, as Hurley creates, or another apocalypse, those that seize power will be able to rewrite history in ways we can hardly fathom. In a mere ten years, alternate histories could become facts. The question then becomes, will resistance to these new narratives even be in someone’s best interests? Will the truth matter?
Despite these weighty considerations, the casual reader could skim along the surface, not pausing to consider the depth of Hurley’s experience and the impact it has had on her writing in the same way that I did while watching Star Wars as a child. Only in looking back as an adult can I realize the movies spoke to some universal need for power that had been denied, locked up in the divine stories of a deity I would never come to know, yet still clinging to a new hope that we may someday overthrow the tyranny of past generations.
Hurley’s collection, Meet Me in the Future, achieves that which most writers only dream; connecting not just with a deeper and universal truth that will lodge itself in the minds of readers long after the story is over, but to tell stories so engaging and dynamic that even those averse to the risks of questioning one’s experience will find them impossible to put down.
It’s okay to ask uncomfortable questions. Meet Kameron Hurley in the Future. She’ll show you how.
Editor’s note: Kameron Hurley is a featured author in our kickstarter campaign The Way of the Laser: Future Crime stories. Head on over to pledge your support, pre-order your copy, and see exactly what questions Hurley has been asking about how new technology will enable crime in the future.