The Very Pulse of the Machine
by Michael Swanwick
• Page count: 21
“The Very Pulse of the Machine” is a 1998 science fiction short story by Michael Swanwick. It is about an astronaut who survives a crash on Io and has to walk 45 miles back to her lander.
This award winning short story follows Martha Kivelsen, an astronaut who is in a moon rover crash while exploring the surface of Jupiter’s moon, Io. With the rover ruined beyond repair, Kivelsen decides to create a makeshift sledge and drag her partner’s body back to the lander before her air supply runs out. Having no time to sleep, and taking hits of methamphetamine, Kivelsen begins to hallucinate. Not only does she see a horse galloping across Io’s surface, but even worse is the pesky voice that keeps trying to communicate with her through the radio – claiming to be the consciousness of Io.
“The Very Pulse of the Machine” was an interesting read. I really enjoyed the descriptions of Io’s surface, and all the strange formations that Kivelsen encounters on her long walk. I also liked the conversations she holds with “Io” – they were intriguing, funny and kept me wondering how the story would turn out. If you like hard science fiction and descriptions of other worlds, as well as exploring the mind of someone who is going a little bit crazy, then this story is for you. Be forewarned though, there is some strong language and grisly images in this story – so if you’re the queasy type then be careful. But it is classic Swanwick – so if you are of fan of his other works then you’ll most likely enjoy this one as well.
If you enjoy reading this be sure to check out William Wordsworth’s poem, “She Was a Phantom of Delight“, from which this story takes it’s title.
“The Very Pulse of the Machine” won the 1999 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. It was also nominated for the 1999 Locus Award and Asimov’s Reader Poll.
Ahead of her stretched the hard, cold sulfur plain. Smooth as glass. Brittle as frozen toffee. Cold as hell. She called up a visor-map and checked her progress. Only forty-five mile of mixed terrain to cross and she’d reach the lander. Then she’d be home free. No sweat, she thought. Io was in tidal lock with Jupiter. So the Father of Planets would stay glued to one fixed spot in the sky. That was as good as a navigation beacon. Just keep Jupiter to your right shoulder, and Daedalus to your left. You’ll come out fine.
“Sulfur is. Triboelectric.”
“Don’t hold it in. What are you really trying to say?”
“And now I see. With eye serene. The very. Pulse. Of the machine.” A pause. “Wordsworth.”
Where you can find “The Very Pulse of the Machine”:
• This story first appeared in the February 1998 edition of Asimov’s Science Fiction.
• You can read “The Very Pulse of the Machine” in Michael Swanwick’s Locus Award winning book of collected short stories Tales of Old Earth.
Michael Swanwick has won several Hugo Awards for his short stories. You can learn more about this amazing science fiction author on Wikipedia.
If you liked this story you may enjoy A Walk In The Sun, the Hugo award winning short story by Geoffrey A. Landis.