4 of 5 stars.
In a smart blend of allegory and space fantasy, this story takes a look at the effect of cultural mythos and prejudice, and at the process of striking out on one’s own at the threshold of adulthood.
The world of the story is a scattershot of isolated island-city-states in the three-dimensional darkness of space. Howling, severe updrafts loosely connect the rocks, or pueblos, allowing some to spread their arms and rise to the next inhabited rock, and others to enter a toothpick plunge to sink against the winds. But most never leave the rock they’re from, no matter how small or disadvantaged it is.
The unnamed narrator is a girl born on a sparsely populated rock in which only brave boys ever leave, and then they never return. It is expected that she will marry some boy that rises up to her rock, as her mother did before her. Her older brother has just risen with the bulk of the boys of his class. They always rise from her world, as rising is faster than sinking, rising gets one farther. Her younger brother will never get a chance, because he has an infection and will die like everyone who gets infections. The mythos states that through the generations, the men are slowly rising to the level of Center City. If her father’s home-rock’s mythos was any different, he hasn’t said.
A sinker arrives on the rock–a woman. When she leaves to sink farther, she takes the girl with on a one-day, abrasive descent:
We passed a skeleton, or the skeleton passed us. The sinker told me it was a riser, or another sinker maybe . . . She said he left some pueblo and never found the next one. Ages ago. Floated around out there until he starved to death. “Happens,” she shouted, “Happens all the time.”
Despite others that prey on the floaters, they descend to the wealthy, modern city-rock of Roseblood where they are not let in. Those that try to enter are killed. Those that steal are killed. Those that scavenge are killed. They encamp with others not allowed in. Those others have not heard of Center City, but they know of Big Ghost, and more importantly The Great Flat at the bottom of it all.
The sinker manages to acquire medicine that should help the younger brother, that no one on the girl’s home-rock will accept as not witchcraft. The sinker sends the girl rising, as she jumps to sink farther . . .
“The Endless Sink” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in LCRW, September 2014.
[Check out my other reviews here.]