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Radiant Doors by Michael Swanwick

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“Radiant Doors” is a 1998 science fiction short story by Michael Swanwick. It is about a woman who receives a mysterious gadget from the tyrannical leaders of the future.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

A door in Isfahan, Iran“Radiant Doors” follows Virginia, a woman who works for the aid organization helping millions of refugees from a future Earth. They have traveled to the present through time portals called “radiant doors,” and are fleeing the horrors of the future leaders of Earth – the Owners. As the refugees arrive they are interviewed in an effort to glean as much information about the Owners as possible. It is during one such interview that a woman gives Virginia a small, humming, multi-colored device she brought with her from the future. It was supposedly used to control people’s actions, but Viginia isn’t about to turn it over to the government. She hangs on to it, and in the process becomes Golem-like obsessed with it! It turns out to be a pretty important doo-hickey, and a lot of people eventually come looking for it.

The doors began opening on a Tuesday in early March. Only a few at first – flickering and uncertain because they were operating at the extreme end of their temporal range – and those few from the earliest days of the exodus, releasing fugitives who were unstarved and healthy, the privileged scientists and technicians who had created or appropriated the devices that made their escape possible. We processed about a hundred a week, in comfortable isolation and relative secrecy. There were videocams taping everything, and our own best people madly scribbling notes and holding seminars and teleconferences where they debated the revelations.

Those were, in retrospect, the good old days.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • This is a well written story with a great surprise ending that leaves you second guessing everybody and everything!
  • I enjoyed the idea of how the aid workers grew tired of the horror stories from the future. Not that I think it is a good thing, but the story seemed more realistic by including the parts about “compassion fatigue.”

• The bad:

  • There is a lot of profanity, and a couple of “adult situations” in this story – definitely not for kids.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 17
“Radiant Doors” garnered the following awards:

  • This short story won the 1999 Asimov’s Reader Poll.
  • “Radiant Doors” placed 2nd in the 1999 Locus Poll.
  • It was nominated for the 1999 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, the 1999 Sturgeon award and the 2000 Nebula award.

Where you can find “Radiant Doors”:

  • This short story first appeared in the September 1998 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.
  • “Radiant Doors” is included in Michael Swanwick’s award winning short story collection Tales of Old Earth .

Some Interesting Links:

  • I know my reviews are totally awesome… but I must say, this one from The Specushpere is also pretty darn good!

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like The Clockwork Atom Bomb, about a UN Weapons Inspector who finds several powerful and illegal devices deep in the heart of Africa, by Dominic Green.