“No Longer You” by Katherine Sparrow and Rachel Swirsky

IZ224 coverA novella is a job for the weekend, so we start issue 224 with story two. I don’t think I’ve read anything else by Katherine Sparrow, but this is up to Rachel Swirsky’s usual standards. Like “Eros, Philia, Agape”, it takes a familiar sfnal conceit — in this case, absorption of an individual into a hive mind, here called Aviva — and ferrets out its implications for normal human relationships. It’s narrated by an absorb-ee, Simon, looking back at the circumstances that lead to his absorption: a painful breakup, and a rebound with Aviva.

“Relationships between people with lone bodies and lone minds are always unequal.” That’s what Aviva says. “Power springs up between them like a weed, and tangles everything.”

As Lois Tilton notes, the story is filled with contradictions: Aviva seeks out Simon because she is entranced by his dancing, but he ends the story having given up physical existence entirely; Aviva is the creation of a group of Orthodox Jewish geneticists looking for a way to preserve their culture, and does she what she’s doing as preservation, yet it’s clear there is at least some loss of individuality: personalities can be closer to or further from the surface of Aviva. But it seems to me the story is entirely aware of this, that it grows from the central contradiction of any relationship — two (or more) people trying to be one entity (also a particularly apt theme for a collaborative story, of course) — and that absorption into Aviva is far from being “too good to be true”. For Simon, at least, it’s a capitulation, an acknowledgement that he cannot — does not want to — carry on alone. “You can’t preserve things without changing them”, says Aviva, as if in explanation of the doped-up nature of existence inside her; but at some point, the title’s prediction comes true.

4 thoughts on ““No Longer You” by Katherine Sparrow and Rachel Swirsky

  1. This story didn’t quite work for me, partly because I really thought the treatment of (let’s face it) a very old SF idea just wasn’t new enough.

    (Probably doesn’t help that it’s one of those I ideas I viscerally dislike.)

  2. I think the cultural specificity of it went a long way to carrying the story for me. (And if I thought the story was trying to pass off the absorption as uncomplicatedly consolatory, as Lois did, I don’t think I’d like it much either…)

  3. Certainly there were good points to the story — indeed, it’s a pretty good story. The cultural specificity you mention is a definite plus. It just fell short of really clicking with me for the reasons I mention.

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