Eater-of-Bone • novella by Robert Reed

★★★★1/2

Meta: ISFDB. First published in Eclipse, Dec 2012, freely available at the author’s website. I’ve read it in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection.

It is part of Reed’s Great Ship Series but you can read it without any previous knowledge: the wandering ship-planet is only mentioned as part of a distant past and only the godlike post-humans with their nearly immortal, indestructible bodies remind of the series.

I really liked the novella but I can imagine that readers without a high tolerance for (literaric) violence, urine and feces would probably lem it after the first couple of pages: the first chapter starts with the female protagonist being shot, amputated, eaten by a sea monster and vomitted only to be resurrected by a male called Mercer on his own island.

The story is about the relationship between those two opposite protagonists: he is the ancient scientist, she is the young „Dreamer“ haunted by the ghosts of her past. He has got ressources developed over the course of millenia, she is the starved savant.
Humans on this planet depend on reaping everything because the planet lacks precious elements. In the end, they have to cannibalize each other to survive. That is the alpha and omega of the story. The story tells us not only the human relationships but also the relationship between the intelligent savant „Nots“ and – from their point of view – the godlike human monsters.

I found the world-building to be great, events from the distant past shimmer through in an antiquated, dusty light, and current context is given in details without losing its entertaining voice.

The rich amount of ideas, deep characterization and narrative could have been extended from a novella which is nearly the size of a novel to a full blown book. Instead, Reed stayed in a tense, vivid prose leading to a high imaginative impact.

As a side-note you might want to read an interview with Reed where he talks a bit about the novella’s background.

Highly recommended for those who can stomach Reed’s gory style.

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