Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Mercytanks", by Jennifer Pelland

Thursday, August 14, 2008
I've wanted to read "Mercytanks" for a while now, ever since I read the Nebula nominated "Captive Girl" earlier this year. You see, "Captive Girl" was easily my favorite of the Nebula stories and I wanted to read more from Jennifer Pelland. Somehow I missed the fact that most of her stories were available on her website, and I was semi-frustrated by my library not having a copy of her debut collection Unwelcome Bodies, so since March I haven't read anything from Pelland.

Then came Transcriptase and I knew it was time.

Between "Captive Girl" and "Mercytanks", Jennifer Pelland writes stories about people who are physically broken or damaged in some way, who are physically unlike what you or I might understand.

"Mercytanks" presents an interesting view of the future, one where humanity is able to modify itself into sometimes unrecognizable bodies, such has technology advanced over hundreds of years and humans have taken to the stars. Now, in itself this is not an exceptionally original idea. What Pelland does with it next is.

Figure as space travel becomes more affordable and realistic that people will send out ships to start colonies on far away worlds. Assume this will be possible. Well, some of the earliest ships may take 500 years to reach their destination. How much may technology and space travel advance in 500 years? Think of where we were 500 years ago and try to push that forward in time. By the time those first colonists arrive 500 years later the rest of humanity may already have arrived and settled in. That's what 500 years of interstellar technology can do. That's not what the story is about, though. What "Mercytanks" is about is what happens when those colonists arrive and find that human society has changed to something nearly unrecognizable from what they left.

Then, Pelland tells "Mercytanks" not from the perspective of the colonists, but from the perspective of Tanjel and MackMACK, two post-humans set to greet the colonists and assimilate them into the new human society. Except, technology and humanity has advanced so much that except for one child on the colony ship, the colonists will never be able to adapt and the real purpose of Tanjel and MackMACK is to transmit the experience of the confused colonists for entertainment purposes.

Once it becomes clear what story Jennifer Pelland is actually telling here, "Mercytanks" is a heartbreaking story. The longer the reader spends in "Mercytanks", the more it hurts, the more the real story here becomes clear. The heartbreak is for the colonists in not achieving their dream, for the colonists for the situation, for the young girl, for Tanjel, for humanity itself, and how Pelland twists all this around.

Between "Captive Girl" and "Mercytanks" I think I am quickly becoming a fan of Jennifer Pelland's work. There is one more story of hers up on Transciptase which I expect I'll read in the near future and then I'm just going to have to pony up for a copy of Unwelcome Bodies. Well, that or read most of the stories on her website, but I like the idea of having the book in my hand. Yes, I do know that I mentioned buying the book earlier this year, but I had to get the two Bear books first.

So..."Mercytanks" = good.

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