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Slow Life by Michael Swanwick

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“Slow Life” is a 2002 science fiction novelette by Michael Swanwick. It is about an astronaut on Titan who believes she is in communication with a newfound life form.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

Titan and Saturn’s ringsLizzie O’Brien is part of the first team to explore Saturn’s moon Titan. After collecting samples from the surface she uses a small hot-air balloon to return to her group. Of course this wouldn’t be too exciting unless she somehow… you know… got stuck in an air current, and her controls somehow stopped working and certain death was imminent! There is one strange thing about all of this though, and that’s the weird dreams she keeps having about communicating with something in the methane-ammonia sea. Add to that the fact that all her conversations are being relayed to the VoiceWeb back on Earth, and the fact that her oxygen supply is low, and you have yourself a real thriller here!

“Guys?”

This time her tone of voice registered with Alan. “What is it, O’Brien?”

“I think my harness is jammed.”

Lizzie had never dreamed disaster could be such drudgery. First there were hours of back- and-forth with the NAFTASA engineers. What’s the status of rope 14? Try tugging on rope 8. What do the D-rings look like? It was slow work because of the lag time for messages to be relayed to Earth and back. And Alan insisted on filling the silence with posts from the VoiceWeb. Her plight had gone global in minutes, and every unemployable loser on the planet had to log in with suggestions.

“Thezgemoth337, here. It seems to me that if you had a gun and shot up through the balloon, it would maybe deflate and then you could get down.”

“I don’t have a gun, shooting a hole in the balloon would cause it not to deflate but to rupture, I’m 800 hundred meters above the surface, there’s a sea below me, and I’m in a suit that’s not equipped for swimming. Next.”

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • The very plausible idea of putting the astronauts’ conversations on the VoiceWeb was great! All the crazy people chiming in with their useless suggestions was totally funny!
  • NAFTASA – the organization responsible for sending the astronauts to Titan. That is a nice subtle joke on the possible future of space exploration!
  • All the descriptions of exploring the surface of Titan were really cool. Honestly, how amazingly fun would that be!

• The bad:

  • I’m not sure about the ending of “Slow Life”… I thought it was a little too much of a stretch.
  • There is some strong language and adult situations – so stay away if you don’t like that kind of stuff.
  • This isn’t really an action story, it is mostly conversations about – and descriptions of – “cool” scientific stuff. However, that is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 19
• Word Count: 8,105
“Slow Life” garnered the following awards:

  • It won the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.
  • “Slow Life” placed 4th in the 2003 Locus Award for Best Novelette.
  • It also placed 5th in the 2003 AnLab Award for Best Novelette.

Where you can find “Slow Life”:

  • This novelette first appeared in the December 2002 issue of Analog.
  • “Slow Life” is included in the collection of Michael Swanwick stories The Dog Said Bow-Wow .
  • You can read a nice HTML version at Analog’s web site.

Some Interesting Links:

  • Titan is a very interesting place – check out all it’s cool features at Wikipedia.
  • Be sure to check out Michael Swanwick’s web site to learn more about him and read more of his short stories for free.

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like The Very Pulse of the Machine, about an astronaut who survives a crash on Io and has to walk 45 miles back to her lander, by Michael Swanwick.