Acadie by Dave Hutchinson

Tor, 2017, 97 p.

In a planetary system protected by an early warning network known as the dewline, members of The Colony are hiding out from the authorities back on Earth, The Bureau, still looking for them after the thefts the Colony’s founders made on leaving Earth. The Colony has made genetic modifications to its members – forbidden by The Bureau – resulting in “superbrights” known as The Kids, “tall, fragile children with towering IQs and a penchant for terrible jokes.”

The crisis for The Colony is precipitated by the sudden emergence well within the boundaries of the dewline of a probe, which, though destroyed almost immediately by a Colony member, may still be noticed by The Bureau as missing and so bring down their vengeance. The Colony makes provision to escape elsewhere and instructs the dewline to dismantle itself. Our narrator, John Wayne Faraday (nicknamed Duke,) is The Colony’s latest President (elected by default,) and is one of those left behind to oversee the dewline’s disassembly after the Colony migrates. The banter between Duke and his Colony compatriots is as friendly and barbed as you’d expect and Duke himself appears (ahem) down to Earth and as a narrator seems utterly reliable.

Well before the dewline has finished its last task another probe enters the system. Duke’s negotiations with the man called Simeon Bivar operating it lead his companions to suspect that it is actually an AI. Bivar’s reaction to that assertion is surprising, and twists the entire tale.

This is a beautifully written novella, replete with allusion – spaceships are called One Potato, Two Potato and Gregor Samsa, for example. However, it does mention Science Fiction conventions – an unlikely allusion several centuries hence I’d have thought. It is, though, another instalment in SF’s long examination of what it means to be human.

Pedant’s corner:- “The second wave of probes were tasked with” (the second wave … was tasked with.) “There were a couple of sunloungers” (there was a couple,) “‘a great fuck-off big colony transport’” (violates the adjective order rule; ‘great big fuck-off colony transport’,) “with the most up-to-date motors … that would have been a trip of about ten light-years” (a light-year is a distance, not a time; it would have been a trip of ten light-years whatever kind of motor was employed.) “As soon as the second generation of Kids were old enough” (as soon as the second generation … was old enough,) “huge Christmas tree bubbles” (baubles surely?)

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