Social Divides in the Solar System

illustrated by Jun Cen

Try turning off all the lights at night, moving through your house in total darkness, through interiors where no ambient light reaches, feeling your way down familiar hallways, counting the steps on the stairs until you reach the landing above and moving deftly around corners as the walls guide you. I did this as I went from my basement reading spot to bed, getting a sense of the life Chocky lived, with only four senses instead of five. But I did this only, as the author of the story might put it, in a touristy sort of way.

The Tourist” by Alex Sherman (on Tor.com from free) creates a world that more than sufficiently immerses you in its scant 16 pages; it feels plausible. Just like in James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse series, moving out into the solar system creates social divides, haves and have-nots, and the Morlock-like denizens in the belly of this hostile far-flung rock in the desert of the solar system are at once fascinating and pitiable.

The tourist is studying for a Ph.D., hoping to learn more about what is essentially a lost civilization deep in the Amazon forest of the stars.

Like any speculative fiction of note, this story turns the reader’s expectations upside down in the best of ways. The tourist can’t see what’s going on (literally) and is dependent on the local guide to help find what he came looking for. But Chocky isn’t just introduced as a device to help the tourist along – he has his own needs, desires, and fears.

The tourist only has a short time to be with the moles/Squatters (as they are called), but in that period he discovers more about the society than any before him, and perhaps gets more than what he bargained for.

This story could be allegory for how we might treat whole segments of society — whether it’s Blacks, the poor, the elderly — and ignoring their pain and suffering, conveniently placing it in the dark. Or perhaps that’s just me projecting in the time of covid-19 and social unrest after the murder of George Floyd by police.

Either way, I can see myself as being both the disenfranchised and the privileged — Chocky and the tourist — and wondering that if their roles were reversed, would things be any different.

4 of 5 stars

Josh

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