Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hugo Award Nominee: "Truth"

Robert Reed
Nominated for the 2009 Hugo Award: Novella

Narrator watching a man in prison, never met him. Man has been in prison for 12 years, 5 months. Underground.
There was no sun underground, and there were no birds to hear. But after twelve years and five months of captivity, one man seemed to be absolutely thriving.
The initial question is “Why?” Five daily prayers, salat. So, muslim. This is what I think about in the first two pages of the story. It’s an attempt to piece together what is going on and who the prisoner is. Unless the prisoner doesn’t matter, but I think he does.

The prisoner is codenamed “Lemonade-7”, but refers to himself as “Ramiro”.

Then we find out that this is a CIA prison, and shortly after learn the date is August 5, 2014. Twelve years, five months places the capture as March 2002.

The narrator is a new interrogator, coming in to work with “Ramiro”, her predecessor had stopped the prisoner’s torture.

Ramiro was captured smuggling bomb-grade uranium across the Canadian border.

“Easy to do, as long as you understand that the dates are based on the Islamic calendar. The significance of both notations, taken together, would have been answered on maybe a dozen websites. But that answer was crazy. And it left you with a much bigger puzzle sitting inside a cold, cramped cell. Even the earliest dates on Ramiro’s list occurred after his incarceration. And each one marked the day and position of a supernova bright enough to be noticed by earthbound astronomers.”

Except it isn’t that simple. It’s not just another terrorist.
“To be truthful? This entire situation terrifies me.” I hesitated, and then said, “It’s not every day you have the opportunity, and the honor, and the grave responsibility of interviewing somebody who won’t be born for another one hundred years.”

This can read as a spoiler, but given that it is revealed so early on in the novella, I don’t think it is. It’s the underpinning of the story, though that last sentence was the end of the first section of the story and is more than a bit of a reveal.

“Truth” is a thrilling story to read, even if most of the revelations and details are done during conversation. It’s a future history with time travel and terrorists and damn, does the reader (this reader) want to know more. Robert Reed makes it work. It’s all conversation and interrogation, a new spin on the Iraq war, and it all works.

People want to believe that in another twenty or fifty or one hundred years, the earth will grow into an enduring utopia. But among the prisoner’s unwelcome gifts was a narrow, knife-deep vision of a disturbingly recognizable world. Yes, science would learn much that was new and remarkable. And fabulous technologies would be put to hard work. But cheap fusion was always going to need another couple decades of work, and eternal health was always for the next generation to achieve, and by the twenty-second century, the space program would have managed exactly two walks on the Martian surface and a few permanent, very exclusive homes hunkered down near the moon’s south pole.
Seeing the shape of a future world is always fascinating, and those little tidbits Reed throws out there to explain Ramiro (but never too much at any one time) are wonderful details I might hope would be expanded into a novel, but I think they work best as tidbits.

A story that runs as little more than extended conversation, or as two extended conversations, probably should not work so well, but damn, this is stuff I want more of! “Truth” isn’t political diatribe or rhetoric, it’s just the story of a time traveling terrorist.

It’s just a really good story that I wish was a little longer. It’s horrifying, but beautiful in the very nasty way a looming apocalypse can be.

I've read a handful of Reed's stories, but this is easily my favorite and, I would suggest, the best.

Not sure I've said things as well as some of the folks linked up on Torque Control.

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