Once again, J. Scott Coatsworth creates a complicated, multi-layer world and brings a last survivor into it who recently lost a life partner. While this frame story has similarities to Homecoming, the novella is more like a unique story springing from the same prompt than one following a template.
Sera flees a dying Earth on the last supply run to a far-flung colony where she and her wife hope to find sanctuary. Her wife’s lifepod fails along with many of the ship’s systems during the 25-year journey. Sera desperately tries for a crash landing rather than missing the colony altogether.
Meanwhile, Jas, a harvester with strange ties to the native hencha plants, struggles to help her dying mother. She supports the two of them with what she can tickle from the plants she swears are sapient, but only to herself. She’s been warned against appearing to be insane already.
Both of the main characters come into the story with history, Jas more than Sera, that affects what happens within these pages. The simple backstory comes out in the beginning, but there’s much more going on than even the main characters know on this colony with its homogeneous culture. The colony was founded to be a monoculture, and those founding beliefs have become more rigid since leaving Earth. It is both socially and genetically similar except for Jas who has throwback features to the broader genetic base of Earth.
Now add into this strict culture both a tendency to punish any who deviate even in the slightest fashion and plant life with the ability to communicate. At some point, the colony leaders had to know about the sapient plants because an agreement led to the symbiotic relationship between humans and the hencha, at least according to lore.
What begins as a desperate hope, Sera for survival and Jas to heal her mother with Earth tech, becomes the expression of every rebellion Jas has ever entertained, and many she hadn’t yet. It’s a clash between belief and reality. I’m being vague so as not to spoil, but this is clearly a story that would appeal to me.
The characters are strong both in description and with distinct personalities from the main characters down to the young man Jas convinces to help. They have regrets, guilt, conviction, and determination all appearing on stage. The world Coatsworth created is a good example of the worst and best in humanity combined with an unusual alien life. The story even offers commentary on the troubles when knowledge is lost except for commandments begging to be broken, a further sign of its layers.
As should be obvious, I enjoyed the read and hope this world will be explored further as there are tales still waiting to be told, including what happens after this one. I will note the actual story, though about 18,000 words long, ends at 76% of the book length (assuming it hasn’t been updated since), but the end point is solid and satisfying.
P.S. I received this ARC from the author in return for an honest review.