8 thoughts on ““Meltwater” by Benjamin C. Kinney”

    1. I’m still catching up from last week, so anybody who wants to lead on this one, you’re very welcome to 🙂

  1. Very cool little story. I’m especially impressed at how the author managed to get across such an immense, world-changing SF-nal premise, clearly and vividly, and complete an entire, clear story within it – within the constraints of one limited, remote corner of existence, with somewhere between 3 and 1 characters. It’s a triumph of tight focus, clarity, and working the story out just right.

    The idea of falling in love with an alternate version of yourself is strong, tragic, and well-handled here, quick as it is. The revelation really sticks with me: "She will learn the things I most lack: peace, certainty, trust in permanence." The idea of changing into something else, something opposite and ALSO of falling in love with that opposite, because both exist simultaneously – that’s beautifully circular; self-supporting and self-contradictory.

    The ending, when Percel/Arju has Emlune "download into me," didn’t quite work for me. While I have a good enough sense on what forks, splits, and splices mean here, "download X into Y" doesn’t feel well-enough defined to carry the climax. I don’t know what it *means*; so that part of it felt like it packed less punch than it might have,

    It *might* be that because Emlune is an ancient fork of Percel, what Arju is asking is that Emlune attempt to splice with Percel/Arju, instead of the original request of another individual fork. This isn’t stated explicitly, but I might expect that re-merging with such a far-diverged fork would be… unpredictable. I do kind of like that; I’m not sure whether this actually addresses Arju’s feelings, or is an elaborate, romantic form of suicide (at best, becoming a new, fused individual), but it does pack resonance.

  2. Just occurred to me that both this story and the last one take place in a far-future shattered Earth, but this one makes rather more sense. Sometimes stories about post-humans come off as nearly indistinguishable from fantasy because tech is assumed to be capable of anything up to altering the very fabric of the universe (e.g. Yoon Ha Lee’s "Variations on an Apple"), but in "Meltwater" the author has been relatively restrained in what technology he proposes — it’s very powerful but only in certain defined ways.

  3. I think the practical reason Arju asked for a fork of Emlune to be downloaded into her is that she wanted one to go work with her other selves, so combining providing a body for that with erasing her obsessed-with-the-past personality was killing two birds with one stone. But she thought of that practical solution because it made emotional sense.

    It’s a little weird that Arju used the phrase "download into me" rather than "into this body" or something when she had previously done so much speaking of bodies and personalities separately. But the fact is that with this technology, a fork can’t exist without a body to inhabit, and the nature of the body greatly influences the personality. Percel/Arju thought that she could only love Emlune the way she used to if she had the same body as then, and gave the new fork that was supposed to live like Emlune a similar spider body. So maybe the use of "into me" signifies her accepting that this combination of body, memories, and circumstances together is a unique Arju, a whole distinct individual, and is not "Percel", whoever that once was. Accepting that means abandoning the idea that the love that existed between certain instances of Emlune and Percel could ever be recaptured exactly as it was.

    And if Emlune and Percel were derived from the same individual once, then it’s no wonder that recombining them feels to Arju like a satisfying way to go.

  4. What’s fascinating in this story is how powerful the forces driving individuals to become independent personalities are. It’s quite a sophisticated meditation on individuality. Even when people can be created with preexisting memories and the emotions attached to them, even when they can later share memories by splicing, nonetheless in their one body they feel like a self, and that self’s personality rapidly diverges from all others. That makes it not weird for them to fall in love with another fork because that fork isn’t themself.

  5. "Percel" at the start of the story hasn’t really accepted that Percel-that-was can never exist again. That’s what makes the setting so brilliant for this, with its radically changed world that incorporates pieces that we recognize. The characters’ attitudes toward the past — preserve, restore? are of a piece with their personalities. The author thinks that an ice-locked Sagrada Familia cathedral would be a good place for thinking long, slow, deep thoughts; an architecture not just suited for rituals devoted to a Christian God, but to meditation in general. Meanwhile, outside, ice melts, the landscape changes, and Arju’s new personality will begin to build new things.

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