"Dangerous Space" (PDF format)
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novella
"Dangerous Space" reminds me of George R. R. Martin's The Armageddon Rag, though this is probably simply because they are both stories about (among other things) rock music and that they get to the soul of the music rather than being superficial about musicians. That's about where the comparison ends, though one final comparison is that both are really, really good.
Mars is one of the best sound engineers in the music industry. She has a talent for getting into the heart of a song, of a band, and perfecting the sound so that it'll hit inside the audience and make them feel everything the band has put into the music. Mars can take a band with potential and make them great (relatively speaking). Mars's latest project is a band called Noir, a rock band with rough edges and a magnetic frontman in Duncan Black.
Through the first person perspective of Mars, Kelley Eskridge tells a story about music, sex, love, and obsession. While Eskridge does not show Noir on stage often, she does present a realistic portrait of a band who has spent years together. They know each other and are comfortable with each other and Kelley Eskridge is able to make that come across on the page.
"Dangerous Space" is near future. There is a bit of technology that is referenced early and comes into the story late which is not currently possible in 20(09. It's like an advanced virtual reality, though not exactly. The point of "Dangerous Space" is not the technology or the science fiction aspect. "Dangerous Space" is about the relationship between Mars, the band, and the music.
This is a story to get excited about. It's just good, in the sense that Eskridge has skill enough to make the characters, setting, music, everything real. Readers will want to know more about Mars and Duncan and the band, and will get it. "Dangerous Space" starts out interesting and then just gets really good. Yeah, it's nominated for a Nebula and thus one would expect a higher SF quotient, but damn it, this is just a really good story.
The only negative here is what feels like a little epilogue. Up until that point "Dangerous Space" is made of awesomeness. The epilogue (last two pages) doesn't quite work in the same way that the rest of the story does. The story works on the sexual tension between Mars and Duncan (among other things), and while the ending fits the story, it doesn't quite deliver. With that said, "Dangerous Space" is still an outstanding story. Not only may it be one of the best stories nominated for a Nebula this year, it is good enough that I want to read more from Kelley Eskridge.
Thank you, Joe! I'm glad you liked the story, and I appreciate your taking the time to write about it.
You're right that the story is light on science/tech. For me, the deeper speculative element is the lack of gender markers for Mars, and the idea that whether you read the character as male or female, Mars' feelings and actions are still plausible because they are human. At least, that's one of my goals (along with just telling a good story).
I read Mars as female, but it took a while to come to that conclusion. I thought I caught a marker somewhere in the story, but now I'm not so sure. :)
But, I agree - everything Mars does and says comes across as human, as real.
I probably wouldn't have mentioned the science / tech except for the nomination. By the time I noticed that the story was extra light on that element I certainly didn't care. I was caught up in the rest.
Oh, I didn't mind your calling out the light science. I'm guessing the rest of SFWA has noticed that too (grin).
One of my favorite reviews of DS talks about my brand of spec fic being to take an SF element (such as F-tech) and show it affecting a few characters at an entirely personal level. That felt true to me: but it's not everyone's preferred brand of reading, for sure. I would frankly be astonished if it won the Nebula, although I would certainly be proud and happy.
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