“Terra Nullius,” by Hanuš Seiner. Translated by Julie Nováková.
Short story. Published in Strange Horizons, March 20th 2017.
It’s Charles Payseur’s review of the piece that I found particularly intriguing, right from the premise:
This is a beautiful and rather haunting story that follows a dramatic confrontation, but only along its peripheral. The story explores the vast worlds inside of alien beings, where one human is diving over and over again to try and find the key to human survival in the face of an ever-adapting enemy. It’s a story of alien invasion, and a sort of invasion that humanity cannot hold out forever against, these aliens capable of taking their experiences and creating a sort of illusory world for their next generation to adapt safe and better, to learn how better to conquer and spread.
Christos Antonaros, at Tangent Online, writes:
An original idea, which dips the reader into the bottom of a river, and even deeper into the terrifying illusions created inside of the guts of five alien behemoths. The setting and structure of the story are attention-grabbing from the very first paragraphs. (…) At some points, especially during sections of dialog, the plot becomes confusing, but the author then gives the reader a plot-twisting conclusion that resolves any questions.
A.C. Wise, in her column for Apex, writes:
Seiner offers up a truly alien mode of being, as well as learning and communication. The story calls into question the line between reality and illusion, at times echoing the unanchored feeling of exploring a new world – neither the characters nor the reader are fully grounded, drifting and making their way through the landscape together.
Rocket Stack Rank is less impressed. The full review (spoilers!) gives the story two stars, saying “The concept is pretty cool,” but “The execution of that idea is awful, and the whole story is a confused mess.”
I’ll close with a return to Payseur’s comments, this time on the themes and resonance of the story:
It’s a hitting story about trying to break this echo-chamber of conditioned abuse that just prepares people for war. (…) What happens when people are so trained and programed just for conflict, just to believe that their illusion is real? There’s a lot going on in the story and it’s nicely built to show the depth of these illusions, how it gets into everything. (…) It’s a story that really dives into illusions and isolation and how the young and conditioned by the older generations. It’s chilling and yet not without a spark of hope. An amazing read!
What did you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!