Readers and critics alike have been pleasantly surprised by Caren Gussoff Sumption’s manners comedy and post-colonial love story set against an inventive backdrop of deep space colonization. So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion centers on exo-geologist James Blackthorne, who volunteered to survey a newly-discovered planet. Once there, he finds himself alone and falling for Aveliin, an indigenous Zil receiving an experimental drug designed to align the species’ sleep cycles with human ones.
But, “the course of true love never did run smooth” and the miscommunication between species slowly begins to take its toll.
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“I wish I could write a blurb as good this book. I wish I could write ANYTHING as good as this book. What Gussoff Sumption has set before us is a carefully observed tale that is by turns, harrowing, hysterical, and heartbreaking. A thoughtful meditation on communication, connection, belonging, and ultimately, love.”
-Matthew Quinn Martin, Author of the NIGHTLIFE series.
Can love truly conquer all? Can it bridge the enormous gulfs that lie between stars? With furious humor and unrelenting glee, Caren Gussoff Sumption shows her characters–one a clueless exo-geologist and one a long-tailed, estivating alien–courting each other with pancakes, favorite movies, and fresh-cooked cockroaches. There are so many great things I could say about this wild, utterly original novella, but I’ll let you discover and delight in them yourself.— Nisi Shawl, award-winning author of Everfair
Two explorers from very different worlds are stuck with each other until the weather improves — and the result is a gem of a novella, with contradictory facets that all shine at same time. It’s both a funny, cozy romance and a post-colonial cautionary tale; a story where isolation and connection, love and exploitation, understanding and cluelessness, all dance with each other in a way I never knew they could. It’s a sweet, intriguing, easy-paced journey to an ending that manages to be deeply satisfying in two completely opposite ways at once. You’ll be glad you met this book.— Elly Bangs, author of Unity
So Quick Bright Things Come to Confusion by Caren Gussoff Sumption
Aveliin doesn’t understand golf, so I show her Caddyshack.
I’ll take any excuse to watch Caddyshack. I’m kind of an expert on historical comedies, and Caddyshack was one of the best. It’s on my list for top ten.
It isn’t my number one; she isn’t ready for that yet. All season, I’ve been laying the groundwork, slowly and surely, to finally share the best and funniest comedy of all time, of the twentieth to twenty-fifth century, anyway.
We aren’t quite there. Yet.
We did get onto golf. I love golf. But when I showed her my great-plus-plus grandfather’s pitching wedge, she wasn’t very impressed. So, Caddyshack it is.
“Sit still,” I tell her. “This is great.”
Aveliin stares at Chevy Chase. Then she stares at me laughing at Chevy Chase. Finally, she slaps her tail on the floor. “Muh.”
Her tail is heavy with stored water, so the slap shakes the couch.
I pause the movie. I explain country clubs, caddies, gophers, and “getting laid”. I tell her about the Dalai Lama, WASPs, and the Vietcong. I replay her scenes to illustrate the concepts. I describe cheeseburgers, hot dogs, salami, potato chips. My chip flashes notes to me in the corner of my eye. I take my time with Scotland, in particular, because that’s groundwork for later, but she needs to understand golf, first.
“Here,” I say. “We’ll both play.”
I don’t have a lot of personal possessions. I wouldn’t say I’m usually sentimental. But this wedge is something special.
I found it in my mother’s attic and she let me keep it. I didn’t like the dark as a kid. My mother thought that was cute, but inconvenient, so she let me sleep with the club next to me.
Then I outgrew monsters. But I kept it because it made me interesting. No one else I knew had a golf club or knew how to play. I did, and I learned.
It’s a great meditation.
I hand the club to Aveliin. She sniffs it, licks it, then holds it under her arm when I restart the movie.
I give her credit. She tries to follow along, gamely. But then Aveliin stares hard at me and thumps her tail on the floor. “Muh,” she repeats. For emphasis, she adds, “Ze muh,” thumping her tail harder. Then, as if I could possibly miss how much she doesn’t understand, she shakes her head like she’s got swimmer’s ear.
Aveliin and I’ve been together down here for more than a month. She has a sense of humor, gets most things, even if not right away.
It’s the Caddy Day tournament. I love this part. “Give it a chance?” I ask, and she makes an unhappy noise.
I’m not surprised, really. Every girl I’ve ever shown Caddyshack hated it, and I say so. “Well,” I sigh. “Where I come from, not many women like this movie either.”
“Zenot a woman,” Aveliin reminds me.
“So says you.”
Aveliin gives up on me. She lays the wedge next to me, and she takes one of the golf balls I’d printed back on the ship. She dribbles it back and forth with her tail. I pause to watch her.
Her tail looks painful to me. It’s really swollen, her skin stretched white between the dark green scutum. But she hits the golf ball like it doesn’t seem to bother her.
I’ll up the diuretic in her evening shots. Get the water out. I blink twice; my chip says it’s late afternoon. The suns set only slightly below the horizon in summer so, this time of year, it always feels like anytime.
“I want to watch the rest of this.” I point up, so she knows I mean it.
“Ca,” she says. She whacks the ball around as she paces, stopping only to give me a dirty look.
Not a woman, my ass. She’s not going to let me finish Caddyshack in peace.
“Careful,” I say. “What’s up with you today?”
Aveliin thumps her tail. “Azea muh,” she says.
I do understand. The days are too long and too bright, and there’s only the two of us, waiting. It’s hard to be patient. But, I agree with her. “No. I don’t understand.”
Just like that, she softens. Like a woman. She touches her stomach in apology.
“Szi, szi,” I say, pointing up. “We’re still friends.”
“Pals,” she says, which she’s picked up from the movie. I’m a little proud, and smile, and she responds, baring her big teeth at me, a pantomime of a human smile. Then she goes to sit at the far window.
From where I sit, I can’t tell if she is looking at her reflection, or out into the blurry heat. I decide she’s looking out. Her lips are moving.
I know what she’s doing. She’s rehearsing what to say, how she’ll describe it. She’s the only one of her kind to ever see the summer in its entirety, and they expect to hear everything when they wake up.
It’s an enormous responsibility; it rests on her heavily. The movie is almost over. “Come here,” I say, patting the couch. “Watch the end.”
Aveliin turns from the window. She doesn’t sit next to me, though. Instead, she settles close to the screen, back onto her haunches, propped by her tail. She’s quiet for a while, then asks me to pause the movie.
Bill Murray’s face takes up the whole screen. Aveliin reaches out and strokes his cheek. “I like the texture of his face,” she says. “It’s like drying mud.”
“Well,” I say. I hit play again, and stretch out. “That’s something, isn’t it?”
Aveliin was born for this. For her, this was fated, decided. Her parents had her on the first full day of Iledilla; therefore, she’s a simu. In English, “a taster.” “An explorer.”
A professional stuntwoman. Daredevil.
I bet we wind up dismissing Zill culture because it’s based on luck, this sort of deterministic astrology. The day, the week, the hour, determining what, who they’ll be. We’re big on free will. The company is big on personal choice.
But, sometimes, that’s a lie. I know that’s a dangerous thought, and I’m testing shit by thinking it. But that’s really the truth.
Luck drives human lives as much as the Zill. If not more. Aveliin explained to me how their birthday may determine their mual, but not their achievements.
What we do, Aveliin said, belongs to us.
Aveliin’s here because her parents decided she should be the sort of person who would be. I’m here because I was available. I could do the job. I’m a company-chipped geologist with some civil engineering coursework and a talent for languages.
I’m not stupid, though. I know anyone with basic chemistry and any facility with basic math can run drills and scanners, administer injections. If they need back-up, info can be loaded on any chip made in the last two centuries.
They don’t even need language skills. Chips can compile conversational Zilll to translate directly.
I’m here, because I was there. By luck, fortuity, goddamn chance, really.
And blind enough to volunteer: but that’s what Pam Joeng would say. Her voice, not mine.
My chip blinks: send message to Pam Joeng 0577210? I wave it away.
Even if I got a message wormed through the ionosphere, when she left, it was clear there was nothing more to say. Nothing she’d want to hear. I’m not even going to try.
Pam Joeng and I are done. If we’d even started.
I don’t want to think about Pam.
Aveliin bats the golf ball around.
“We should go outside,” I say. “I can teach you a proper swing.”
She shakes her head.
“Aveliin,” I say. I can’t get her outside, no matter how I try.
“Jay-mes.” She slaps her heavy tail. The couch shakes. “The suit does not fit. It squeezes zeto death.”
I sit up. “It fits you fine.”
“Azea yialmu the golf here,” she says. She whacks the ball to me. Before I can react, it hits my shin..I yelp.
She forgets how strong her legs and tail are.
“That’s a solid printed urethane ball,” I say, rubbing my leg. “That hurt.”
She comes over to touch my leg with her tail, a gesture of apology. She can’t control it well with the weight, so instead of tapping me, she drags on my leg hair.
“I’m not going to teach you inside,” I say. I’m a little nervous to lose the ball, but still. “We’ll break something.”
“Ze not going outside,” she says, stepping back.
I stand. “You have to experience it,” I say. “Feel it. Simu.”
“Azea muh,” she repeats, slapping her tail.
“Fine,” I say. “Then explain it to me.”
Aveliin makes a face. We’ve had this same conversation every day since we started. “It is disrespectful,” she says. “To walk over them.”
That’s a new angle. Usually, it’s about the suit, or the heat, or a side effect of the anti-som. But this one, I kind of understand. The subterranean caverns are large, connected by a convoluted network of tunnels. In them, it was impossible to tell what was above you, and above ground, they were totally unmarked. Walking over thousands of your people is a bit creepy.
I rub my belly so she knows I’m thinking about it. “Muh,” I say. It’s still an excuse, an evasion. “You aren’t walking on them. You won’t hurt anyone. They’re pretty deep underground.”
When our crew first arrived on Zil, we came duringAyilla on a day something like today.
Everything was fire beneath the twin suns, red Yill and the bloated, yellow Yil. Terrain moved ceaselessly. It oozed. It breathed: heat melted the air so it flowed liquid; electric currents swirled like tornadoes; low brown bushes sizzled; toothy flowers sagged beneath the weight of glassy sap.
And soledi everywhere, marching formations of the giant roaches, antennae twisting toward every new sound. They owned everything. It was their time.
We swam forward in the heat. Static sank through our helmets, made our teeth feel furry. The flatlands snapped like crackers. We squashed soledi with wine-glass crunches beneath our boots.
Somehow, all biosensors failed to detect tens of thousands of Zill, estivating less than a kilometer beneath the surface.
We landed, balls out, like we were on a lightly inhabited rock with an unpleasant climate.
We took occupation of an empty village, medieval-looking cottages of wattle covered by dust, communal halls upholstered in mud, hemmed in by the dirty lace of the horrible, baked ground.
We couldn’t imagine what had ever lived here besides the roaches and some small, primitive cats whose skeletons we found. Whoever it was, living in a Bronze Age of sorts, were long gone.
That they weren’t, that anyone else still lived, was living, and would soon come out to meet us as guests were inconceivable notions.
When the Zill woke up, I’d be grateful, as I’ve been more than once, to be just chipped crew. I’d always hoped to move up, but that was a moment to celebrate not being management. The company’s not known for leniency over these kinds of mistakes.
I’d also be grateful the Zill were friendly, generally pleased to see us. First contact is not something I thought I’d do, even as deep space, and it goes terribly wrong, sometimes.
Horribly, terribly wrong.
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