One dung Beetle
I’ve given this story a dung beetle rating for its content rather than its writing style. I have two major problems with the content. First, the failure of certain terraforming technologies is a key plot device, yet the author fails to explain why those technologies were being employed. I enjoy science fiction stories which make random, sometimes silly, technological references to establish their science fiction-y nature or convey the general tech level of the society (“I’m sorry Bob, I can’t go on a date with you Tuesday. I have an appointment at the skull expansion parlor.”), but if a technology impacts the plot of the story, then I need it to make sense. My second problem with the story was its ending, which I found incomprehensible; I understood the events which happened, but I don’t understand why the characters were behaving in such a manner. I’ll speculate that the author might have been making some point about modern society, but I think I’m just grasping at straws.
An alien race has been attacking Earth’s colony worlds, and a team of scientists is sent on an emergency terraforming mission, to give refugees somewhere to live. There are a couple of offhand references to “glacial carving and continent sorting” and compressing the terraforming effort to include only two ice ages instead of three (in just one year). Since this later turns into a major plot point, I can’t ignore it; why are these processes part of a rapid emergency terraforming effort? Just make sure the planet has a mostly nitrogen atmosphere, a habitable temperature, a water source, and some algae to make oxygen, then toss the refugees down there. Why would you want glaciers speed-racing across the planet? Is the planet all rock, with no loose substrate to turn into soil? It would probably be easier to grind the rock with some kind of tractor, and the story states that the refugees have hydroponic systems for growing their crops anyway. Is it even possible to speed up a glacier? I’m not a physics guy; I don’t know. Why do the terraformers want to move continents? I suppose if one continent is on the equator and the other over a pole, you might want to move them together into the more preferable habitat for humans, but the story didn’t mention this, and didn’t give me the impression that there were enough refugees to fill multiple continents.
Apparently the terraformers stink at their jobs, because their (probably unnecessary) tectonic tinkering causes earthquakes and volcanos which make the planet uninhabitable. They jump in their shuttles (capable of in-system travel only) and head to the only other habitable planet in the system. This other planet is close to the sun and its orbit is decaying, so it will spiral into the sun within a couple hundred years (but it still has fewer tectonic problems than the terraformed planet; did I mention these guys stink at terraforming?). The plan is to wait for rescue from Earth, but then the terraformers learn that Earth has been wiped out by the aliens.
This is where the story loses me completely. Do the terraformers attempt to combine parts from their shuttles into an interstellar spacecraft, in a kind of reverse “The Flight Of The Phoenix”? No. Do they race to build an industrial program for the construction of an escape craft? No. Their solution is to have a bunch of children and ignore the problem, except to occasionally speculate about whether the aliens will find them and kill them before the planet spirals into the sun.
This behavior makes so little sense to me that I’ve been attempting to read some meaning into it. Is it some sort of political commentary about governments which leave unmanageable debts to future generations, and completely ignore the problem they’re creating? Is it some sort of social commentary about modern people being the inverse of “The Greatest Generation”? If the ending is the point of the story, then the story needs to be shorter, or the point needs to be reinforced by some earlier events. Ultimately, reading the story just left me confused, which probably wasn’t what the author intended.