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Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359? by Ken MacLeod

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“Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?” is a 2007, Hugo nominated, science fiction short story by Ken MacLeod. It is about a man who agrees to investigate an abandoned experimental civilization around a distant red dwarf.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:
Red Dwarf The story begins as an unnamed protagonist is running from the law after being caught having an affair with the station’s owner. He doesn’t make it very far and is eventually convicted and fined an astronomical amount of money. What does he do when he can’t pay the fine? Why, he accepts a dangerous (but highly lucrative) assignment to find out what happened around an experimental colony several light years away.

“You can forego counsel, if you wish.”

I raised my hands. “No, no. Please. Do your best.”

He did his best. A week later, he told me that he had got me off with a fine plus compensation. If I borrowed money to pay the whole sum now, it would take two hundred and fifty seven years to pay off the debt. I had other plans for the next two hundred and fifty seven years. Instead, I negotiated a one-off advance fee to clean up Wolf 359, and used that to pay the court and the Tycoon. The experimental civilization around Wolf 359 — a limited company — had a decade earlier gone into liquidation, taking ten billion shareholders down with it. Nobody knew what it had turned into. Whatever remained out there had been off limits ever since, and would be for centuries to come — unless someone went in to clean it up.

My Two Cents:
• The good:

  • A fun, easy to read, space opera-ish type of story.
  • Some very cool ideas that I hadn’t come across before – such as a new civilization funded entirely by corporate shareholders, and using space tubes as weapons.

• The bad:

  • The story moves a little too quickly in parts, especially in the beginning and at the end.
  • While the ending wasn’t bad, it did seem a little too contrived.
  • There is some strong language as well as adult situations – so be careful of that.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 12
• Word Count: 4,763

“Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?” has garnered the following awards:

Where you can find “Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?”:

Related Yet Still Interesting Links:

  • Could this story have been partly inspired by the real planet Wolf 562 c? Perhaps – take a look at the Wikipedia article about this planet (discovered in April 2007) in orbit around a real red dwarf.
  • You can read my friend Tinkoo’s in-depth review of “Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?” at Variety SF.
  • While I have read Ken MacLeod’s Engines of Light series, I was unfamiliar with his other works. You don’t have to be – learn more about this science fiction author on Wikipedia.

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you may also like Finisterra, the Hugo nominated novelette by David Moles.