All my Antics, Mostly Reviews

Tag: scifi

The Long Wait

A Review of Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter’s The Long War

It took me quite a while to get to this book, maybe a bit too long. I remember loving the first book of The Long Earth series, but it’s now nearly 4 years since I finished The Long Earth. And maybe my love for the first book of this series needs an update because The Long War, the second book of this series, definitely didn’t conjure up feelings of love from me. A fit of anger every 50 pages seems to be a better description of the feelings I hold for this book. Nevertheless, I managed to soldier through even if it took me unusually long between reviews. That’s not the fault of the book alone, a global pandemic certainly didn’t help my focus, but the book certainly had its part. So, without further ado, I’ll bring to you my explanation of why I am so angry with this book and why I still kept reading it to the bitter end.

The Physical Book

My 2014 Corgi Edition of this book, is a pretty standard paperback book. After a month of reading and at times abusing this book, the soft touch foil lamination started to fray off the cover’s paper at the bottom edges, but this is definitely not a remarkable book in this regard. A younger me would have probably destroyed the cover by peeling the lamination of completely at this point though.

As for the cover art, I think it continues the trend of being unremarkable. It’s not bad, it’s not great, but from the struggle I myself had with the art for this review, I know this book isn’t easy to translate into art, it’s to inconsistent to develop objects or scenes that would be striking or lastin in memory.

The World-Building

I think the world-building is truly the strongest suit of this book and the entire Long Earth series. The series is set on Earth around the 2040s, but in The Long Earth humanity at large learns to step into stepwise adjacent worlds, worlds that are similar to so-called datum earth, but took a different path in the probability tree that characterises earth’s geological history. And there are plenty of these worlds, to both the so-called East of the datum and to the so-called West of the Datum. Not all of these worlds are habitable, some are pretty lush places to settle.

These worlds are only shown in vignettes or broad descriptions, only certain places in the vastness of the Long Earth are visited or described. The singular places that are described feel real enough, but also don’t show much character necessarily.

The Characters

This lack of character that plagues some of the worldbuilding, is even more rampant in the actual characters. As a sequel, this book, naturally, doesn’t have to put much effort into setting up new characters, but at few new characters are set up nevertheless making this book pretty large in scope of characters. This, of course, is an opportunity to represent a certain diversity of characters, but it also makes some of these new characters quite shallow or into mere plot-devices.


Spoilers for Specific Characters

Roberta Golding, for example, is set up as a young girl that just knows everything but has an absolute lack of empathy. She feels to me like she is coded as autistic, and her framing as the smart kid made me viscerally angry quite a few times. For most of the book, she’s accompanied by a group of minor characters that seem solely characterised by their Chinese nationality, which seems questionable to me to say the least. Not that any of her actions would matter for the plot of this book. Roberta isn’t even mentioned as a character in the list of characters for this book on its Wikipedia article.

The best addition to the cast of characters in this book is probably the priest Nelson Azikiwe, who represents a refreshingly unique perspective, even if his plotline also ends abruptly and without any character growth.

End of Character Spoilers


And this is probably the main problem with the characters. There are too many of them to give them all at least small but satisfying character arcs, and the structural issues of the plot, make even the character arcs of those lucky few, that are supposed to have development, end too abruptly.

The Plot

And the plot is where the real issues lie. The plot is what made me hit myself with this book multiple times and once even made me throw it away in anger mostly for not resolving plot lines properly, what follows in the next few paragraphs contains spoilers, so be warned, but I can’t explain the structural issues properly without referencing how they end.


Spoilers

The main problem I see is that this book continually hints at something larger, some epic fight to come, some epic exploits to follow, but every time, the plot builds to the point where the reader is hooked, the plot isn’t resolved, but either you are sent into an unrelated chapter, things are fixed by the AI Lobsang in a Deus ex Machina fashion or, the plot is just resolved post facto, by a garden party where you get to know that everyone is alive and maybe a few hints as to what happened between the height of suspense and the narrative now.

As stated before this wrecks a lot of potential for character arcs. And while I understand that not every story necessarily needs characters that grow, there isn’t any big overarching mystery set up, except maybe the expectation of a war to come, that never arrives, and ends in a complete fake-out.

End of Plot- Spoilers


I think the amount of characters doesn’t make this easier, but I even struggle to summarise the plot without making obvious spoilers, because for the most part this book has characters in search of a plot, and if they find a piece of plot they are almost always robbed of concluding that plotline satisfactorily.

The Writing

As for the writing style, this book again is pretty unremarkable, it’s reasonably well written but that just doesn’t overcome the structural issues with the plot or the assortment of characters to bring under one roof.

Summary

Now, would I recommend this book? Hell no! I know a few people who really were engrossed by the world-building and who really enjoy the whole series of books, but to me with hindsight even the first book had some of the issues of this book.

If you really like world-building this book might be a pretty enjoyable and rompy read, but don’t expect a good story. I think you can read it for the vignettes of worlds, but the book is absolutely bereft of growth. For the most part it’s characters in vague search of a plot and the titular long war that never comes.

My last book review was The Blue of Distance about Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. My last review of a fiction book was Who Let the Dogs out! about Wolfgang Schorlau’s Der Freie Hund. My next review is about the gripping Terror Keep by Edgar Wallace.

If you liked my review, you can as always support me on ko-fi. Or you can get prints, stickers and other items with some of my designs on redbubble, at chwiggy.redbubble.com

Qubism

A Review of Tom Hillenbrand’s Qube

For a change, this is a review of a book I got as an advanced reader copy. It’s a German book by an author who has been translated into English before, so there is a realistic hope that this book will be translated into English at some point. Ostensibly I’m writing this review only in English because my audience i.e. at this point still almost exclusively my nerdfighter friends are mostly English-speaking and only in small parts speakers of German.

Though that probably isn’t the weirdest part of this review. No, crown probably goes to the fact that this is part two within a universe called Hologrammatica by Tom Hillenbrand. I have in fact not read part one yet, and I don’t know if I will, just for logistical reasons, so bear with me should that first part have substantial influences on your reading of this second instalment. But without much further ado, let’s get into this review of Qube.

Though I probably have to make the disclaimer here, that I received this book as an ARC, and didn’t pay for it. I’m trying to not let this really influence my review of it, but this is called transparency. Here’s my review on vorablesen.de (German).

Physical Book

Now, holding a book in your hand that’s only about to be released to the wider public has a special feel to it. This book is a pretty standard German paperback though. That means it’s nothing special, but it also isn’t crap. The cover design is simple yet intriguing, so basically the way I like my covers to be, even if I’m as of late a bit bored with red and black and white cover designs. Yes, yes those are striking colours, and easy to combine in ways that look good, but I just want something more daring.

The Setting & World-Building

Qube takes place in a future post-climate-change, after the advancement of computation into the realm of true artificial intelligence, or short AI. And while you might want to insinuate that this book might be a bit too much in love with technology, this nevertheless remains a world you can find yourself swallowed in without the immersion being broken by inconsistencies or other problems of world-building.

Sometimes however the technobabble masks too much of the plot and its really interesting themes though. Sure, there’s a plethora of technology to explain in this book from holograms, to mind-uploads and body swaps to the ins and out of information security and AI, that might be too much for a technologically non-interested reader, but sometimes I would have preferred to have more of that outsourced to the glossary, at the end.

I’m not going to dissect the world of this book in regards to its plausibility in regards to being a prediction of the world in 2091. That is a road I don’t want to travel on. There are definitely technologies in here that sound more like magic to me than like technology, but as Arthur C. Clarke’s famous adage states:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clarke

The Plot

Beneath this splurge of technology hides a quite multi-faceted plot. Hillenbrand, especially in the first half manages to juggle multiple interlace threads of plots, separated by almost torturous cliff-hangers. Sometimes, of course, a particular thread was more interesting and cut short by an intermezzo of all the other plot-threads, but that is the price you have to pay for this interspersed way of telling a story with multiple main actors spread around the earth and at times the solar system. Yes, this novel contains space travel, though the main plot remains steadfastly on the earth.

There the plot starts rolling with a headshot that almost kills Calvary Doyle, an investigative reporter on track to solve a mystery around the last incident around AI in 2049. The police investigations into Calvary Doyle’s attempted killing prove to be more complicated than a simple case of attempted murder however and start to involve multi-billion-dollar companies, AI, death and a plethora of body-swaps.

The Characters

And who carries out these body swaps? Mostly Commander Fran Bittner, sometimes Francesco or Francesca depending on the appearance of his current vessel. And that is probably one of the most interesting points in regards to the characters. We get to enjoy some form of non-binary, maybe genderfluid, maybe bigender representation. Of course, it might be stifled by German’s lack of gender-neutral pronouns and also might not be really concerned with much of what the LGBTQ community is concerned with, but the main character’s gender is explicitly discussed at least once as “outside of the binary”.

Other than that the book is just filled up with a normal amount of solid characters. To me, none of them feels overdrawn or like paper cut-outs to fill the story, but all of our main characters seem to have understandable motivation. The main characters are of diverse genders, though definitely lack in racial and ethnic diversity if not as Fran Bittner body swapped into a body of another race. Only side characters get to be of another background natively in this regard.

One last criticism of the characters I have to mention: their naming. And this criticism is somewhat in keeping with the aforementioned technobabble this book succumbs to. The names Hillenbrand throws around, are too stereotypically English. They are exactly what you think a German would make up when tasked with finding stereotypical names. They sometimes don’t read as names at all, and sometimes are just funny. Especially, in the first couple of chapters, these names really got to the point where they ripped a hole in the hologram of my immersion

The Writing

Naming and technobabble are probably the points that hurt Qube‘s writing the most. There’s a little issue of pacing towards the end of the plot, though if that actually is an issue or just a plot-twist probably depends on your reading of the book, for me at least it was a hump I had to drag my ADHD brain over to then get back to enjoying the book quite a lot.

In terms of writing, this book seems to be a pretty standard sci-fi thriller. There’s nothing that sticks out like a sore thumb in here, but also nothing that is egregiously well written, except maybe for the plot interlacing.

Summary

And I think that is also a good summary for this book. It’s an interesting and solidly written sci-fi thriller. It’s genuinely gripping at points, but it’s no masterwork.

There are a whole lot of great thoughts and ideas here, from immortality via body swaps to artificial intelligence. There’s some non-binary representation, but a lack of racial and ethnical representation. I think a bit more focus on one of these ideas, a smaller scope wouldn’t have harmed this book, but as it is it’s still an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. And you definitely don’t need to have read part 1 of the Hologrammatica series to understand Qube. At least I didn’t even notice there was a part 1 to this.

My last fiction review was about Gabriel García Márquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera. And my last book review was about Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism. Is There No Alternative? My next book review concerns another German book: Der Freie Hund by Wolfgang Schorlau and Claudio Caiolo.

If you liked my review, you can as always support me on ko-fi. Or, and this is new, you can get prints, stickers and other items with some of my designs on redbubble, at chwiggy.redbubble.com

Earth through a spaceship window - Illustration

On the Importance of Touching a Tree III

This is part three of a continuous story, part one is Old Home. The whole story is here

Reveal

The day of initial contact was momentous. In hindsight, even more so than she had realised on that day. Sure, it had been an absolutely wild experience, but who was to say that she was the first one with that experience, and who could have known what consequences this encounter with the trees would have had. Now, hurtling through space in what could only be described as a tin can, she could know! It had been not only life-changing but also earth-shattering.

Now she was in space. The rumbling and rattling, the shaking and trembling the pure force of powered ascent had ceased. Now it was tranquillity. Sure she was still hurtling through space at an unimaginable speed, but she didn’t feel that. “Human’s can’t feel speed, we can only feel acceleration”, she remembered her instructors repeating over and over again. During the ascent, she had felt that incredible acceleration and the increased acceleration whenever one of the giant stages of the rocked, that pushed her into her seat, had burnt up and fell back down to its fiery demise in the atmosphere. But now she was in perceived silence. she looked out of the tiny window her capsule had to offer.

The view on the big blue marble commonly called earth was still pristine. At least what crescent she could see was still a blue paradise of water. She could see the halo that was earth’s atmosphere, but she could also see the vast emptiness of space behind it.


“What?”, stumbled Laura still completely aghast by the sudden voice in her ear. Dennis hadn’t noticed anything – apparently. He was still just looking at gaps at the roots of trees.

“Hello, Laura!”, the voice repeated with a deep rumbling. The leaves of the old oak tree rustled softly in the wind.
“Who the hell are you, and … how the hell do you know my name?”, Dennis looked up at her confused. His eyes seemed to be question marks. She looked at him, rolling her eyes as to signal that she wasn’t talking to him. That, however, made him even more confused. Does this boy never understand anything, she thought to herself.
“They will learn to listen to us early enough”, the voice answered her silent thought, “you are ready, and we don’t have much time!”
“Time for what?!” she really couldn’t think of anything that would fit that particular word choice. These weren’t her words. She was having a conversation solely in her mind. Were those her own thoughts? Was she talking to someone else? Who was she talking to?
“I imagine this must be confusing. It will be alright, you’ll learn what I am talking about, but this is neither the time nor place to do so. For now, we are what you call trees, and we need your help, desperately.”
“My help?”
“Your help!”

She couldn’t even imagine how she could be helpful to anyone, not to even speak of being helpful to all of the trees … treehood? She couldn’t even really get her life on track, how in god’s name was she supposed to help millions of trees. The tree’s call seemed pressing. Not something that should’ve been postponed, but still the tree was softspoken and calm, like a gentle giant. Did the tree have a name? Wait why didn’t the tree answer her thoughts anymore? What had happened why did it fall silent?

She looked at her hand and it became apparent. She had lost touch with the tree. Her hand wasn’t feeling the rough old and crusty bark anymore. She slowly moved her hand closer to the trunk. And surely, the humming in the bones of her arm started again.

“We need contact to communicate, we need that connection.”
“I’m sorry.”, Laura apologised.
“It is fine, you’ll learn to keep your hand steady, you’ll learn to know us more, but the darkness is coming upon this place. It is getting dangerous for you out here, you should really move. We can talk when daylight sets in again.”
“Now you really sound like my parents!”, Laura snarked, and she could feel the tree smiling.
“Better grab them and go to the theatre with the moving lights”. And even though Laura had no information she knew who was meant with “them”.
“And we’ll talk tomorrow again?”
“Yes, we will!”
And with that Laura removed her palm from the tree and lost contact again.

A little later, Laura and Dennis were walking down the neighbourhood street, on their way to the cinema. Dennis had laid his arm around her waist, but she was mostly staring at her feet, steadily flying above the cracks and slabs of the pavement. She didn’t really notice Dennis. She knew he was there, right to her side, but she was lost in her own thoughts.

She had so many thoughts, she wanted to burst out with, but there was no tree listening in on her thoughts anymore, and Dennis definitely had turned silent. She didn’t know how to broach the conversation. And that inability made her uncomfortable, but she just didn’t know a way out of it.

After they cut around a few corners, they were at the cinema, and even while going through the ticket purchase and getting a few snacks, they didn’t talk much beyond the inevitable. Only after they had seen a movie, of which Laura didn’t remember much she still was caught up in thought. The trees, did they have a name? Did the big oak tree have a name? How do they communicate with each other? Do they link up their roots? Do they send over leaves? Do they have a deeper connection?

After the film had finished, Laura was still caught up in her thoughts. As if she was in a trance she just followed Dennis’ decisions to find a quiet table hidden away in a corner of the otherwise quite busy café right next to the cinema. People were pouring in here after their showings stopped, just to drink a beer or to talk about their still fresh cinematic experience. Laura was getting anxious. She remembered nothing of the movie. She still was thinking about the trees. Would she even have anything to say if Dennis wanted to talk about the movie?

“So, eh, I don’t really know how to start the conversation, and I don’t know, this should, well this should be easy, considering who you are, still…”, Dennis started.
This was definitely not about the movie. What was going on? This was not what was keeping Laura’s mind occupied but this wasn’t the movie either.
“well after, you came out to me, eh, I had some time to think about myself for a bit longer, and ehm, I’m definitely not sure about it, but I think, ehm. Well, I don’t know, but could you try out they/them for me?”, Dennis continued, after a short but nevertheless awkward pause.
“Eh, sure.”, Laura mumbled. She was perplexed.
“I’m not sure yet, but I think I might be non-binary.”


“Where the hell is Dennis?”, someone yelled behind Laura.
“Oh they said, they were on their way to the bathroom”, Laura replied without averting her eyes from the earth, slowly shrinking, slowly dissolving into the vastness of space.

Planet Earth

Oh, hi, it’s me again the author. I have never done this, but it seems so fitting. Today, all of educational youtube seems to have conspired to release videos in support of #teamtrees, and while I myself neither have the resources to support them monetarily nor to do deeper research, so maybe consider chipping in with a few bucks. Alternatively, you could also check out this wonderful video in support of Partners in Health in Sierra Leone.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and I hope together we can do a bit of good in the world.

The next part of this story is Envelop.

Rural Street near Freiburg

On the Importance of Touching a Tree 2

This is part two of a continuous story, part one is: Old Home

First Contact

Laura enjoyed the embrace of Dennis. It felt warm and fuzzy to be appreciated for who she was. And even if it had been hard to tell Dennis what was up with her at first. He had been so nice, loving, and accommodating. He really didn’t behave, like she had expected a teenage boy to behave.

She was caught up on this warm island in a bleak and dreary world. Had she ever felt that way? Well maybe, but not in a long time. They didn’t move. beneath them the boards of the garden path set into the grey and dark grey gravel that was her parent’s excuse for a front garden. The gravel kept in place by a wall of rectangular granite blocks, set into the ground at different heights, delineating the border of her parent’s kingdom to the grey pavement and street, above them the orange glow of the streetlight draining all other colours from the scene. Behind them, a bush, more a shadow than visible green, yet. It was early March.

She had fond memories of that moment. It had been the first moment in a long time where she felt at home, but now she was hurtling through the upper layers of the atmosphere at a breakneck pace. The engines were roaring beneath her. She was pressed into the cushioning of her seat. At this time there was nothing to do for her than to survive the enormous acceleration. “Even if something goes wrong, you’ll have no chance to intervene fast enough in the first stages of ascent!”, she remembered, her instructor told her. She had been scared then, and she was scared now. She tried to think back to that spring evening under the orange lantern. Maybe it would calm her down or at least make her remember why she was speeding through thinner and thinner strata of air.

Without a sound, a raindrop fell onto the gravel next to them. Dennis looked at it: “I guess we should move and look what’s up in the garden before it really starts to rain.” Laura looked at the wet spot on the ground for a little bit longer: “I guess.”, but she didn’t move her arms. She still held Dennis tight. “Well, you’d have to let go of me”, his voice interrupted the silence. “Oh, yes, I’m sorry”. She quickly let go of him and moved her arms behind her back, awkwardly shuffling a step back. She looked at the floor. She didn’t want to look him in the eyes. “Hey is everything okay?”
“Sure”, she replied still only raising her eyes slightly, trying to look him into the eyes, but repelled as if by magnetic force.
“Then, come on.”, he grabbed her hand.

Laura hadn’t realised they were already at the back of the house when she finally caught up with Dennis, who had moved fast pulling at her outstretched left arm. They looked into her parent’s backyard. It was relatively big, especially compared to the small house and how big the property looked. The premises were narrow, but long, and faded into a small forest at the end opposite to the house and street.

Dennis kept on running and tugging on her left arm: “Come on, it’s going to rain soon, you sure don’t want to sit in the cinema all wet and soggy!”

They reached the first trees, but there was something amiss. “This tree has moved!”, Laura exclaimed, “Look, it even left a trace!”. Dennis stared at the deep groove, that started a few meters behind the big oak tree and led all the way to its gnarly and scarred trunk. The old and leave-less oak was still standing on firm ground and didn’t look like it would move easily at all, but apparently, it had moved. The marks were evident. “Ho … How, does a tree move like that?”, Laura asked. Who would come into an unsuspecting garden and move an old and knobby oak tree? Had her parents withheld a garden remodelling from her? Had someone wanted to steal a tree? What if the thieves were still around? Laura caught herself nibbling at her nails, still starring onto the disturbed soil behind the tree.

Dennis stepped a little bit closer. With his left boot, he tapped a clump of loamy soil. It didn’t move but was left with a slight indentation from his heavy shoe. He exhaled.
“Maybe someone pulled it along with a rope?”, Laura asked.
“I doubt it, wouldn’t the tree topple first? And besides that, I didn’t see any tyre tracks or anything like that…”
“Maybe they were just very careful?”
“Sure, and it wouldn’t have been easier to dig the tree out of the ground then?”
“Okay, I admit, that sounds implausible, but the tree definitely moved. A groove like that doesn’t appear on its own … What if it was Aliens?”
“And that sounds more plausible to you?”, Dennis looked at her with incredulity.
“It was just a joke”, she backpaddled.

The rain had stopped, maybe it didn’t really want to rain, but who knew. Laura jumped over the groove. It smelled like wet grass and soil. She looked up into the bare and crooked branches of the old oak. Dennis called her. He had walked over to where the small forest got denser. The ground was covered with dry leaves and needles. It was soft. Laura could see his heavy boots sink into the cushioning the forest floor provided. “Look, these have moved too.” And indeed they had been pushed or pulled in the same direction. They hadn’t moved as far, but they had left a small gap behind them, where their trunk didn’t touch the soil anymore. Laura crouched down next to the leader of the trees. She laid her left hand onto the rough bark as if to keep balanced. She felt a slight tingling in her hand. What was that? She yanked her hand away.

Tentatively she reached out again, and even before she touched it she felt a weird hum in her hand. It was as if the tree was vibrating with static electricity. But trees don’t do that, do they?

She looked up at Dennis. From down here he looked so tall, even if in fact he was just a teenage boy of average height for his age. In fact, Laura was taller than him. But Laura didn’t think of her height, usually a source of great anxiety for her, she just said: “This is weird, this is really fucking weird!”

Dennis didn’t reply. What should he have answered? Of course, this was fucking weird. Why did she even have to say that? Surely, he knew this was weird. Why was human communication so hard? She looked around, avoiding to look at him directly.

“I think we should tell your parents what’s going on in their garden”, Dennis suggested after a while of staring into the forest.
“I don’t feel like telling my parents. They’ll probably just declare us out of our minds and in the end, they won’t be able to do anything anyway.”
“Eh, I just feel out of my depth.”
“I mean, fair, this isn’t something I see on the daily either.”

Laura tried to get up, out of her crouched position next to the tree. Her knees were slightly stiff. She struggled slightly but caught her tumble with an outstretched arm grasping at the rough tree bark. And there again there was that weird hum in her left hand, and it got stronger. Not only got it stronger though, but the hum also moved up her arm quite quickly.

And with a thunderous rumbling unusual for the season, the heavens opened their gates, and a torrential downpour hit the ground. At first, thick and heavy raindrops hit the dry and dusty ground forming small little impact craters and then the drops got more and more frequent, wetting the earth, wetting the leaves around the two teenagers. Dennis was dripping wet within a surprisingly short amount of time, but Laura was kept dry by the canopy of leaves that had blossomed from the barren branches of the autumnal trees in a speed akin to that of a time-lapse.

Laura’s attempt at getting up was stopped in its tracks and half crouched down half upright she looked into the leaves above her, her mouth open with wonderous astonishment, her face hit by a thick collected drop of rain every so often. Dennis turned towards her, his arms extended to his side as if hit with a cold bucket of water, and he just stared at her. She was slightly levitating, but she didn’t notice. All she noticed was a deep and sonorous voice calling out to her. Dennis couldn’t hear it, but she could.

“Hello, Laura!”

The next part of this story is Reveal.

Saturn V SA-506 rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building

On the Importance of Touching a Tree

Old Home

Only seconds remained until she would be launched into space at a hurtling pace. She heard the countdown through her helmet, but it was distant. Her mind was preoccupied with her own past and future. She remembered her childhood. She thought about all the fun times she had on this planet, but also all the embarrassing little mistakes she had committed. She was sad, she had to leave this planet, but there was no other choice. She had to. But what would be on the other side?

“20 seconds and counting!” – “t minus 15 seconds, guidance is internal” – “12 … 11 … 10 … 9” – “ignition sequence start” – “6 … 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … 0″ – ” all engine running … lift off” – “we have a lift off 32 minutes past the hour!”

She felt a rumble going through the rocket, she felt her body shaken, and she was shaken. Was this supposed to happen? A tear started running down her cheek as she and her rocket slowly started to move off the ground with incredible power.

15 years earlier she had been a teenager. She lived in a small house with a disproportionally big garden, somewhere on the outskirts of a small German town. Her life wasn’t poised to be a normal one in the first place. She had to fight for her right to be who she was anyway, but she couldn’t have known what history had in store for her.

“Mum, can I please go out with my friends tonight? Dennis is celebrating his birthday, and we wanted to see the new Apollo movie at the cinema.”
“Well, have you done your homework?”
“No, but it’s the weekend I can do it tomorrow, and I’ll still have time to spare until Monday.”
“Okay fine, but don’t stay out too long, I’ll expect you back by midnight at the latest. Even if Dennis is turning 16 tonight, you’re still 14, and you still live in this house.”
“Ugh, yeah, fine, mum!”

Laura wanted to be older. She wasn’t excited about her adulthood, but then, finally, she would be able to escape the control of her mum. Her mum was just too worried anything might happen to her precious son. Laura didn’t want to be precious. In a rare accident of obedience, Laura decided to start her physics homework before the evening commenced.

Physics was one of her favourite subjects, well, to be fair there weren’t many subjects she disliked. There were some teachers she couldn’t stand, but other than PE school was manageable for her. Her biggest issue was boredom. If not for her mum constantly checking her homework as if she was still a 3rd grader, she probably wouldn’t have done her homework ever, but who knows.

Her physics teacher seemed exactly as excited as her about the upcoming rocket trials, her only homework for physics was a question about rockets. She loved rockets and she was listening intently when Mr Lampert talked about the ongoing programs to open up a final frontier in space. She could feel his excitement and she was excited as well. She caught herself staring out of the window into the garden. She often beat herself up about the lack of focus she would bring into projects. It made her feel even more inadequate than usual and she worried she would never fit into society.

She looked out of the window again. It couldn’t be. Was she just hallucinating? She felt tired from her day at school, it was probably just her mind playing tricks on her. She looked down again onto her empty page and her physics textbook. Where was she? Yes, rocket propulsion. So rockets apparently flew by pushing out a somewhat constant stream of expanding fuel, and then, well, because of Newton’s principle that every force causes an equal and opposite reaction, well that would push the rocket forward, or well upward. But wasn’t this too easy? Well, yes, the mass of the rocket would change. so it wasn’t just two unchanging masses pushing against each other, the process of pushing would change the mass of the pushed object. Oh no, this smelled of differential equations – Wait! There it was again, something in the garden had moved again. And it wasn’t supposed to move, was it? Trees don’t just move on their own, do they?

Laura was thinking if she should go out and look for herself what was up. Maybe it was all just an illusion. A weird artefact of diffraction or a lapse of her judgement, she had had a long day after all. Going out there could have cleared up her mind, after all, it was probably nothing, or was it? She looked out of the window again. She squinted, but she couldn’t see anything.

Still wondering, what was out there, she returned to her physics homework, just to be rudely interrupted by her mum: “Jonas, come down and set the table, dinner is almost ready”. Oh god, did Laura hate this name, but was there anything she could do to convince her mum to not use it anymore? Probably not. To her mum, Laura was just a delusional child, not willing to accept what nature had brought upon her.

“Have you had a look into the garden today?”, Dennis asked when he picked her up after dinner.
“Eh, no? Well, there was … why do you ask?”, Laura replied.
“Ah, I just thought something looked different when I walked along the fence. Just as if something had moved that shouldn’t, but it was probably just my mind playing tricks on me.”
“Wait, Dennis, no! I saw that too. Earlier, when I was doing homework, I felt like something had moved, but I thought my mind was just playing paranoid tricks on me.”
“Always, the good child doing homework, but maybe we should check it out”, Dennis mocked her with a grin.
” I don’t know what if it’s something dangerous…?”
“Come on, it’s just your backyard what dangerous thing could there possibly be?!”, Dennis urged her.

Dennis grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the little path that led around the house into the garden. Laura wasn’t really enthusiastic about the garden. She struggled a bit, but the fight she put in was more for show than a serious effort to stop Dennis. She secretly liked Dennis’ spontaneity, she wished she wouldn’t always worry about every single possible consequence of her actions, but she did. What if it was a dangerous animal? What if her parents would think they were crazy? What if Dennis found something embarrassing about her in her garden? Wait, what could a garden even tell about her.

They hadn’t moved more than a few steps, they hadn’t even passed the kitchen window when Laura’s mum screamed: “Jonas, don’t forget your jacket. It’s going to be cold today!”. Dennis stopped and looked at her slightly baffled. Laura just rolled her eyes. “When is your mum finally going to use the name you picked?”
“I don’t know. I’ve tried to tell her before, but…”. A tear ran down Laura’s cheek, glistening in the orange glow of the street lantern in front of the dark house. Dennis stepped closer on the slightly damp planks that made up the garden path and held her tight.

The second part of this story is First Contact. The whole story is collected in Touching a Tree.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén