THESE ALIEN SKIES by C.T. Rwizi (BOOK REVIEW)
This is a delightful little story – a mere 25 pages long in its Amazon listing, yet with themes that could have easily born a longer piece. There are shades of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time in the notions of a far future of colonisation, faster than light technology and terraforming.
Pilot Msizi and Engineer Tariro make the first transit of a recently constructed “Einstein-Rosen bridge” to an unexplored star system. The bridge is effectively an artificially maintained wormhole making near instantaneous travel possible between two vastly separated locations – a sort of star gate if you will. Msizi is the first to test out the bridge which has only just been completed by a slower than light speed automated ship – the Architect – which has travelled on ahead to the Malcolm-X system. However, things don’t go according to plan and Msizi and Tariro end up unexpectedly stranded with little hope of return to anything or anyone that they know.
The story packs quite a punch within its small word count, touching on themes of diaspora, history, colonialism and loss. This is a universe whose distant planets have been colonised by the African Union in an inversion of the European grab for Africa at the end of the nineteenth century. The original Mayflower colonists of America were supported in their initial distressing winter by the Native Americans through a sense of shared humanity – though that kindness availed them little in the face of later drives to dominate and exploit the American hinterland, just as the Europeans divvied up Africa. Rwizi throws his protagonists on the mercy of a species alien to him but to whom he is of course the alien. With a communication barrier to rival that in the 2016 film Arrival Rwizi explores that old dilemma of whether or not the indigenous should offer succour to Msizi and Tariro – the helpless aliens.
The story conveys its alien technology in little incidental asides, Msizi’s implant, Tariro’s part cyborg nature, and the judicious namedropping of scientists and science concepts. The disaster – when it strikes – has an Apollo 13 feel to it as Rwizi captures the chaos of alarms and the need for Msizi and Tariro to make instant reactions to the symptoms of catastrophe while they are still oblivious to the cause of it.
Msizi and Tariro differ in their background, for Tariro – as a Neo-African – was born and raised far away from the cultural accumulation of discrimination and prejudice that Msizi experienced. For Msizi,
“Growing up on a Martian arcology as a third-generation immigrant from South Africa…it never quite felt like my home world wanted me.”
Rwizi in the vast expanse of space and beneath These Alien Skies finds not just a new future, but a new past for his neo-Africans with Tariro free-er than Msizi to flex fresh ingrained habits of confidence and freedom.
Tariro’s is not the only alternative African future in These Alien Skies, and Rwizi calls on a rich range of contemporary African cultures as he sketches out what has happened on planet Malcom X-b. But there is also a sense of personal loss that puts me in mind of the film Truly Madly Deeply, as Msizi and Tariro both have to work out ways of letting go and moving forward from the loss they have experienced.
Although short, this rewards a second reading where the clues Rwizi left to future revelations can catch the reader’s eye and earn a nod of recognition.
These Alien Skies is a part of a series of novellas published by Amazon Original Stories, all available now: