Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review of Katabasis by Robert Reed

I've started subscribing to Fantasy & Science Fiction again, which always was my premier SF mag. The November/December issue featured a novella by Robert Reed, called "Katabasis." I had to look up this Greek word, which means "a march from the interior of a country to the coast, as that of the 10,000 Greeks after their defeat and the death of Cyrus the Younger at Cunaxa."

Well. This is a story about a painful journey, although not literally the one in the definition. This is the first I've read of Reed's "Great Ship" universe of stories, in which a gigantic multi-world ship wanders the galaxy, picking up civilizations from all over.

Katabasis is one of the last of her species, rescued from extinction to join the many civilizations on the Great Ship by its human owners. Being extremely large and capable, though humanoid, she is employed as a porter for expeditions of humans who want to make the dangerous but memorable hike from one side to another. This is a future where no one dies, physical damage is easily repaired (presumably by nanobots), and if worse comes to worse, clients are carried out by their porters.  Humans can remember infinitely, as long as they have the money to pay for the onboard storage. Nonetheless, few make the journey without needing rescue.

The novella starts off slowly, with Katabasis reluctantly taking on a weak-looking human couple as clients for the trek. Along the way, they all suffer broken bones from the heavy gravity, as well as starvation and deprivation. She finds her clients strange at first, but slowly grows to like them for their spirit. We gradually learn that Katabasis has made this journey many times, but the first was on her home world, which was failing. She feels guilt for being the only survivor of her people's exodus in search of the Great Ship. After an earthquake wipes out several other expeditions, her group allows another human to join them, on condition he becomes a porter willing to carry food and equipment. There are some similarities to "Avatar," but these can be forgiven.

Though Katabasis's clients ultimately fail, the new human helps her bring them to safety and helps her overcome her guilt and sadness by sharing his equally devastating history. This was a lovely story of the value of forgetfulness and self-forgiveness.

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