Passage of Earth • 2014 • First encounter shortstory by Michael Swanwick



Starting with a CSI like worm-alien autopsy, this first encounter story soon turns into a psychedelic investigation of coroner Hank’s past with his ex-wife Evelyn, and his parents. Are those worms the real monsters and is there a positive way out of hell?


I love Swanwick’s trademark dark humor manifesting in Evelyn’s coy comments. I found it worth for the dissection part alone, conjecturing about the super-intelligent alien mind from investigating their anatomy.

The depth of pseudo-scientific anatomy is complemented by Swanwick’s fabulous hand for drawing realistic characters. Not that Hank’s childhood isn’t unheard of. But the story’s travel through Hank’s memories is absolutely great, revealing his past in several surprising halluzinations:

„There are worse revelations to come, aren’t there?“ – „Oh God, yes,“ his mother said.

This sounds just plain normal, but in the given context, I had to laugh for a full minute. Swanwick develops Hank’s character through those memories, culminating in

„Why are all your memories so ugly?“

There is unlikely hope building from this realization which is a long way from where the journey started, including twists and turns.

Highly recommended, one of 2014’s best stories.


Meta: ISFDB. First published April 2014 in Clarkesworld. I’ve read it in The Years Best SF #32. It is available online.


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