"The Waiting Stars"
Aliette de Bodard
The Other Half of the Sky
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette
The first, that of Lan Nhen searching through what is an interstellar boneyard of derelict ships that have been attacked and abandoned. She searches for her great-aunt's ship, a Mind Ship, which science fiction readers will recognize as being code for a sentient ship of some sort, whether it is a human mind controlling the ship or something similar one of Anne McCaffrey's brain ships that are alive in their own right. Either way, a derelict Mind Ship is a horrible thing to contemplate, but Lan Nhen is hoping to restore and rescue the ship.
The second is Catherine, a young woman who was rescued as a child "so that you wouldn't become brood mares for abominations." She lives in the Institution, which seems to be a rehabilitative center to transition the children from the lives they once knew into citizens of the Galactics. That they were being made safe. But, this also has the ring of American history and the treatment of Native American children being forced to give up their language and "savage" culture in the Americanizing schools in the late 1800's and early 1900's. This isn't, by any means, a stretch of a comparison. Given that Catherine and her fellow students / captives / dorm mates are described as being "smaller and darker skinned" and that "one
only had to look at them, at their squatter, darker shapes, at the way their
eyes crinkled when they laughed", the story of Lan Nhen suggests that these children were "rescued" from the more southwest Asian heritage of the Mind Ship families. Is there a similar history with the Vietnamese compared to the Native Americans? Or, is the comparison too easy because of what I bring to the table as an American reader?
While the two stories seemingly remain separate, it doesn't take long for the reader to see what de Bodard is doing here, how she is weaving the two together while letting the two stories run separately. The two story strands make a much stronger whole than if either strand was the entire story.
"The Waiting Stars" is a fantastic science fiction story, heart rending as the gradual reveal is given of what is going on with those children, now grown, are living with and dealing with. With what is left buried that is eating them from the inside out. "The Waiting Stars" is good and it is smart.