Review: “Stars That Make Dark Heaven Light” by Sharon Joss

4 of 5 stars.

Henrietta, “Ettie,” is the oldest of the surviving children born on the twin-sun world of Hesperidee. The ninety-six adults, including the last surviving member of the S.S. Dominion that was born on Earth and the rest born en route to this far-flung, low-density planet, are too dependent on Earth-level oxygen to wander far from the Dominion colony. The fifteen children born on the planet that survived infancy barely tolerate the controlled atmosphere of the colony. Thanks to the HRV2211-A virus, the kids have gills and double sets of lungs adapted to life on the planet, along with thicker, dark skin, cartilage rather than bone, and three-fingered hands. Using the tenets of Darwin as social mantra, the colony relies on rapid, radical mutation for survival, but things are spinning out of control.

The adults, after 25 years on the planet, are losing virility with the last successful birth over five years ago. Ettie, at seventeen, is not showing recognizable signs of maturation. The two oldest boys are only eight. The future of the colony is at stake if reproduction cannot be re-started. The pressure is on mating Ettie to an older, father-figure male that may yet have viable sperm.

Meanwhile, the kids have accidentally recognized a new species on the planet while hunting native lapids for food stock. The three Tok, as larva, already show signs of intelligence–a first for the planet, in their ability to communicate telepathically with the kids. Soon after the Tok are found and brought to the colony to raise and study, an epidemic sweeps through the colony killing 6 kids and 21 adults. The sexual pressure on Ettie ramps up, and fear of the Tok arises. This is particularly disturbing to Ettie who has bonded with Vox, a male Tok. After pupating, the Tok show rapidily mutating DNA that is converging on the DNA of the Hesperidee children.

This story adeptly explores the issues of what it means to be human vs alien, and us vs them. Xenophobia and interstellar colonization do not readily mix.

The concept and writing of this story is thought-provoking. The story is illustrated by artist contest winner Choong Yoon. As a quarterly short story contest winner, “Stars That Make Dark Heaven Light” merited inclusion in the anthology Writers of the Future Volume 31 by L. Ron Hubbard. I received the anthology through Net Galley.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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