“Pan-Humanism: Hope and Pragmatics,” by Jess Barber and Sara Saab.
Novelette. Clarkesworld September 2017.
Bruce Arthurs’ recommendation on File770 is what first caught my eye:
I was very impressed by this story’s combination of world-building (centered around efforts to restore/refresh a future Earth damaged by ecological and climactic change, supplemented by a society with better support systems for emotional and intellectual growth/stability), and how it also tells a very human story. It deals with longing, and love, and the difficult choices we still have to make, even in a better future.
I was also struck that this story didn’t rely on dramatic cliches or violence for plot development. No bombs, no killings, no sinister villains lurking in the wings. It tells a story of the heart, rather than a story of the fist or gun.
Rocket Stack Rank is less impressed:
This is a tale, not a story. That is, there’s no protagonist trying to accomplish anything; this is just a collection of disconnected events. The only common element besides the environment is Amir’s obsession over Mani, and that isn’t described well enough to make us believe in it.
Given the lack of a plot, the story goes on way too long.
High praise from Tangent Online reviewer Filip Wiltgreen:
I’m not much for romance. And yet, “Pan-Humanism: Hope and Pragmatics” by Jess Barber and Sara Saab made me cry. It’s beautiful beyond words, a biochromatic albatross wing of worldbuilding wrapped around a solid story of post-eco-apocalyptic civic reclamation as seen through the eyes of a pair of not-quite lovers. And there’s a work-life balance thread there, too.
If you like beautiful writing, amazing worldbuilding, mesmerizing, believable characters, and all of it wrapped around a story with a solid plot that tugs at the heart-strings, you’ll love “Pan-Humanism: Hope and Pragmatics.” The only possible drawback is the sheer amount of information and new-speak Jess Barber and Sara Saab manage to cram into the story. To unpack it all, you might need to read it twice. But then again, you might want to.
Charles Payseur calls this “an amazing piece, and one of my very favorite stories of the year, period,” writing:
The story, through the exploration of these characters lives and relationships, begins to build a picture of what it might take to make the world work better. It stresses that it’s not technology alone that will save us, because without a philosophy to match, the exploitation and consumption will continue to escalate, pushing past all obstacles and barriers and safeguards. I love how the story implies that humanity needs a different framework in order to respect humans and the environment, in order to put cooperation and compassion ahead of personal ambition or passion. And it is a beautiful story that touches on how love still works in this philosophy, not quite in the same way that we now expect but still in profound and powerful dimensions that allow Amir and Mani’s story to be one of hope and healing and triumph, even as it is often about longing and distance as well.
What did you think? Read the story, and come discuss with us in the comments!