The Mermaid Astronaut • 2020 • SF Fairy Tale short story by Yoon Ha Lee

Rating: 3 out of 5.

First sentence: On a wide and wondering world in a wide and wondering galaxy, there lived a mermaid.

Synopsis: Essarala, meaning “seeks the stars” is a mermaid longing to be an astronaut visiting the stars.

Traders arrived with their space ship, but Essarala found out that they couldn’t take her, because she’d need a water-filled cabin and her tail would be in the way. 

Her sister helped Essarala to find the witch who provided her with the gift to join the traders. After getting rid of her tale, she was accepted by the crew, and explored the galaxy’s wonders. She had to learn a lot to help the crew: mechanics, chemistry, and special relativity. 

And it was in learning about relativity that Essarala finally understood the price that the witch beneath the waves had exacted from her—or, more accurately, warned her about.

That was when she realized that she wanted to return home. Will she meet the witch and pay the price?

Review: This fairy tale retelling of Andersen’s Little Mermaid explores the SF trope of relativistic travel. It’s easy to predict (or should have, if you’ve read Haldeman’s Forever War or the likes) and concluded in a satisfying end without a huge twist.

The tale is sugar-sweet, Essarala doesn’t have to fight for her cause, everything she needs is served on a silver plate. The crew feels like taken from Becky Chamber’s Wayfarer novels. Even the starbase which they visit is gorgeous. And when she tells the captain that she will do everything to get back home, he only says:

“It’s true that it’s a long way for us […] But we will make the detour, and we will wait as long as you need. I know what it’s like to be far from family.”

Lovely, isn’t it? Nowhere will the soothing narration cause a higher pulse. Now, I need something harsh to revover from a sugar shock – where’s my Abercrombie dosis?

I’ve read better stories from Yoon Ha Lee: Foxfire, Foxfire, Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain, or his latest novel Phoenix Extravagant. But if you care for fairytale set in Space, this one might be for you.

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Nominated for the Hugo Award.

This entry was posted in Hugo nomination, Science Fiction, Story and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Mermaid Astronaut • 2020 • SF Fairy Tale short story by Yoon Ha Lee

  1. Jeanne says:

    It is sweet; I quite liked it.

    Liked by 1 person

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