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Story Analysis: “Erosion” by Ian Creasey

Posted by on July 30, 2010

Note: As part of my own personal effort to try to plot better, I plan to try to do some plot analyses of SF stories, mostly those published in Year’s Best collections.

“Erosion” by Ian Creasey, from Year’s Best SF 15, Hartwell and Cramer, eds. (2010)

Summary: in the 22nd century, Earth is (still) dying from global warming. Winston, a English man of African descent, has been augmented to prepare to colonize a planet around a red dwarf sun. As a farewell to Earth, he takes a walkabout along the English coast, where he meets a memorial hologram of a dead woman. In a thunderstorm, the cliff collapses under him, trapping his foot under a boulder. Winston is forced to choose between calling for help, risking embarrassment and possibly losing his place aboard the colony ship, o electronically “gnawing off” his augmented foot. He does the latter, and realizes how much else he is leaving behind.

Analysis: Like many SF short stories, this is an “insight” story where the POV character (and the reader) learns something about himself/herself or his/her situation. Earth is dying; the narrator says he has the choice to flee a burning house or fight the flames, and he is fleeing. But fleeing entails loss, and there are many themes of loss throughout. The narrator notices plants he will likely never see again. Katriona is a simple holographic simulation, which has lost functionality and developed a kind of electronic Tourette’s tic. Her own husband drowned, lost at sea, and was never found and thus not even a simple simulation of him could be made. Finally, Winston must choose to lose his foot in order (he thinks) to retain his place aboard the colony ship. In the end he destroy Katriona’s chip so that the last vestige of her may find oblivion with her lost husband in the sea.

Another theme, explicitly mentioned, is that human personality is the weak link in the chain. Although he is augmented beyond normal human capabilities, it is his own foolishness in walking along the cliffs that nearly does him in. (In the same way, one supposes, although never mentioned, that human foolishness caused the environmental catastrophe driving him and others off Earth.)

Comment: These kind of stories are hard to pull off, and can be preachy and pedagogical. This one skirts right along the edge of the cliff, so to speak.

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