Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nebula Award Nominee: "They Shall Salt the Earth With Seeds of Glass"

Thursday, April 10, 2014
"They Shall Salt the Earth With Seeds of Glass"
Alaya Dawn Johnson
Asimov's: January 2013
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette

I want a novel length version of this, or at least set in this world.  I want to know more, so much more.

No one knows what they really look like. They only interact with us through their remote-controlled robots. Maybe they’re made of glass themselves – they give us pregnancy kits, but won’t bother with burn dressings. Dad says the glassmen are alien scientists studying our behavior, like a human would smash an anthill to see how they scatter. Reverand Beale always points to the pipeline a hundred miles west of us. They’re just men stealing our resources, he says, like the white man stole the Africans’, though even he can’t say what those resources might be.

The title refers to bomb fragments the aliens, the glassmen, have dropped. The bombs look like little jewels waiting for a child to pick them up, except picking it up is death by explosion.  Are the bombs just bombs, like seeding a road with land mines?  Do they have another purpose?  Does it matter?  I don't know, but this setting of a ruined future is so perfectly created that I am left with the desire for more and more.

The story itself is of two sisters and the new challenge provided by the pregnancy of the younger woman.  Her desire for an abortion in a society where so many services have been destroyed by the glassmen is the driving force of the narrative, and it is a well told story that moves the sisters through this world and into parts of the land they had not been to.

The wonder here is in trying to piece together what happened to this America (and, presumably, the world at large), what the glassmen are and how they interact with humans.  Nothing is ever fully explained, but the reader comes away with a fairly solid idea of how this all pieces together.  It's fascinating and, beyond just the story that Johnson is telling, it leaves the reader wanting more.  Maybe more of these two sisters, maybe more of the "terrorists" the glassmen are concerned about, maybe just more of everything. 

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