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Hugo Award 2019 Shorts discuss > “When We Were Starless” by Simone Heller

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 20, 2019 07:34PM) (new)

This is our discussion of the 2019 Hugo Award "best novelette" finalist...

When We Were Starless” by Simone Heller
It can be read on-line at Clarkesworld Magazine.


This is part of our discussion of the 2019 Hugo Award short story & novelette finalists.


message 2: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 2478 comments I struggled a bit with this one, trying to figure out what is going on.

Our cast of characters are reptilian but appear to be on a future version of our planet. Ghosts appear to be anything electronic that's still functional. Something is covering the sky so the stars cannot be seen. There are "rustbreeds" which seem to be a kind of centipede, not sure the connection with rust. I like the weaver herds though, thought it was cute that they would pick up what are essentially intelligent 3-D printers in spider shape and treat them as herd animals (kind of like spider WALL-E's), in fact rely on them for making everything they need (apparently they can't make something simple like a splint on their own...maybe there are no sticks/wood they can use)

I guess it wasn't about figuring out how we (or they, I assume they didn't evolved from us) ended up in this situation in the first place but about finding hope where it seems there isn't any.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

This was my favorite. It does take a bit of time to piece together the new world in which humans have erased themselves and left behind an almost uninhabitable Earth where the apparent highest lifeform are sentient lizards. (I wonder if any humans made it to the stars before it happened?)

I think the "rustbreeds" are remnant human-built war machines (metalic, thus "rust"), designed to destroy pretty much everything, hence the empty landscape.

Encountering old, surviving relics of the human civilization is risky for the lizards, because some of the old tech is smart/automated, i.e., "ghosts" Dealing with them will make you "ghost-shifted," which I assume just means the lizard in question gets fascinated with the technology and is no longer useful to the tribe (which wants to put the old relic material into the weavers to make something useful.)

The scouts are supposed to put the ghosts to rest; unplugging them, I assume?

And, yeah, I like the story because it's about having a dream of something more than mere survival. (Though the "stars" may seem an overreach, go for it!)

I liked the AI "Orion", too.


message 4: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 2478 comments G33z3r wrote: "I think the "rustbreeds" are remnant human-built war machines (metalic, thus "rust"), designed to destroy pretty much everything, hence the empty landscape. "

Didn't think of it that way, thought they were insect but they could be machines just as their herds and their gearbeasts are. And if that's so, that doesn't seem to leave much in the way of any kind of animal life forms other than the sentient reptiles.


message 5: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 520 comments Wow. you know it's going to be something unique with the opening lines showing these are not humans, or even mammals narrating...


message 6: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 520 comments I liked it- i liked unraveling the who and what and where, I liked the general idea, and the world. Impressive. I'll remember this author now i'm sure. Reminded me a bit of a Tiptree story.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Rachel wrote: "I liked it- i liked unraveling the who and what and where, I liked the general idea, and the world. Impressive."

It does a good job threading the needle, at least for me, of providing enough tantalizing clues to get a sense of what's going on without becoming either incomprehensible or over-explained.


message 8: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 520 comments Yes that’s it - I’ve read enough SF to be bored by the obvious or well explained. Give me something mysterious that my brain has to put together subconsciously


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