Release Date: February 2022
Publisher: Clarkesworld Magazine
Genre: Science Fiction
“Today, Painterman is staring out from the framed acrylic scene on the sixth wall, grinning at us with painted teeth and leaning against the trunk of an oak tree, its leaves and branches rendered in delicate, careful brushstrokes. The paintbrush he always holds is expertly colored and textured to look as though it is pressed against the surface of the painting—as though he is painting the viewer. Yesterday, he was staring out from the painting on the second wall, the day before that, he wasn’t in any of them . . . At first, I tried finding some sort of pattern in the paintings, trying to predict which painting he would be grinning at us from next, but from my observations it seems as though the probabilities of him facing us from any of the paintings, or none of them, are equal…”
Two people, Charm and Down, are trapped in a room, endlessly repeating the same day. Until one day something changes and a man visits from another room. Elsewhere, teenage Kabir visits his older sister Roop at the island-locked science company she works for after receiving a cryptic message from her. She warns that her supervisors are going to erase parts of her mind as punishment for some heinous crime she committed, and Kabir will do whatever he can to help her. The two storylines intersect in interesting ways, and the resolution is now what you expect.
This novella was much heavier on the hard science and math than Ratnakar’s previous Clarkesworld novella, “Submergence“, which I loved. I am not a person who enjoys reading about math or hard science, and there was a lot of it here. It didn’t kill the story for me, but it did drag down the momentum. Ratnakar is good at simplifying explanations down, so while I’m sure I missed the detail, I at least understand the basic concept of how the Babirusa works and why Roop et al made the choices they did. In fact, the relationship between Kabir and Roop is really what sold me on the story. Theirs is a complicated, messy one.
Readers who enjoy math, science, and puzzles will likely dig this science fiction story about two siblings forging a new relationship after a traumatic incident.
Purchase a copy of Clarkesworld Issue 185.