“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies,” by Matthew Kressel

“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies,” by Matthew Kressel.

This is one of several recommendations I swiped from BestSF.net, called this “an excellent story and piece of world-building.”

BestSF keyed onto my two very favorite F&SF stories this year – so I like his taste πŸ™‚ I’ve also been really impressed with Clarkesworld, so that’s a plus too.

The story’s also available as a free podcast.

Read the story:


6 thoughts on ““The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies,” by Matthew Kressel”

  1. So what is the advantage of creating rather humanlike sentient characters and putting the fate of entire universes in their hands? I don’t see this as a cosmological story, really. We can’t imagine anything bigger than our own universe (heck, even the whole of it is unimaginable) so the forces these beings are working with seem essentially abstract. The fates of worlds, even better nations, would be easier to care about. But the abstraction is part of the point; some of the Farmers regard branchlets and realms as things having no unique value, making it easy to discuss and decide their uniformity. There is an obvious metaphor for human child-raising going on in this story — parents and educators may not have such absolute control over what tendencies to foster in their children and cannot destroy nonconformists as easily as Farmers destroy branches, but they have a lot of influence. Thept is part of Yi is part of Delicate Womb etc. etc. and the levels continue toward the ever-smaller also; we are being told that just as the way Farmers raise their young is similar to the way they treat the realms under their care, they are like us and our larger actions are like our smaller actions. (And the Farmers justifying themselves by a message passed down from on high untold ages ago is like basing child-rearing on cultural practices or scriptures from many generations prior.) It’s all clever, but nonetheless I’m not sure this story worked for me; the incongruity of having universes personified in such humanlike terms was a bit much.

  2. This one didn’t really work for me.

    There were some bits I liked a lot (the idea of farming "realms", the hierarchy of unimaginable entities), but I found most of the description to be fuzzy, incomprehensible. Which was part of the idea, I think; it’s part of the style – but it also reduces the impact for me (easier to imagine something alien if you can hand-wave concrete details as something Awesome and Other and Unimaginable), and towards the end of the story, some of the details *matter* and I just didn’t quite understand what was going on.

    (Where was Aya heading with the cancer? Something related to the memory she saw, but I didn’t understand why she was taking the cancer *there*. I’d actually thought, "Oh, awesome, she’s going to hide it in the Disgusting Example Zone!", and then it turned out not to be that.

    And what was the bit about the Tall Ones all being stunted, not "reaching" anymore? I understand the metaphor, but I don’t understand how it follows from the internal logic of the setting.)

    I might just not have been paying close enough attention; ding me if I missed something obvious, folks!

    But even more than all that, "You shouldn’t destroy universes just because they’re not perfect and orderly" is the kind of theme I find myself unimpressed with. I felt that was the core of the piece, and it was simplistic didn’t really work for me. (There’s a neat trick to changing things to "universes", that kind of exaggerates the theme by making more realistic destruction and bias utterly insignificant. Exaggeration by insignificance. But.. that really wasn’t enough to carry the piece for me.)

  3. Yeah, not so very profound: tries to give cosmic significance to the need of children to grow, like the Tall Ones, "blessed be [their] endless reaching", but it’s not as memorable as Kahlil Gibran’s often-quoted poem.

    As for the setting: I think we’re supposed to imagine the Tall Ones streching out branches and branchlets into the void of the Expanse, which is a good thing to do; and overzealous Farmers have been pruning away all the branches leaving them stunted. And the "cancer" was a perfectly healthy but irregular realm, which Aya was supposed to kill and wouldn’t. So Aya took it and went to look for some place that hadn’t been pruned to death; apparently there is such a place, a Tall One where (maybe) Farmers with a better philosophy live.

    1. Seems out of line with the rest of the text; in all the rest of the story, "orderly" farming does lead to healthy "reaching" growth.

      I feel like something was meant to be special about the edges there; that’s where Aya expected to be able to let the "cancer" universe grow. But… I’m not really clear on what.

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