This week's Sunday Short is Aliette De Bordard's ‘‘Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight’’, published in Clarkesworld. It was nominated for a Locus Award and won a BSFA for best short fiction.
The story, set in the far future in Aliette De Bodard's Xuya universe, takes part in three parts with three different viewpoints, each introduced with a cup of tea. All three are individuals mourning the loss of Duy Uyen, a biological mother to two and colleague to another.
First, Quang Tu - the firstborn son of Duy Uyen - is mourning the death of his mother and the loss of her memory implant. In this future, memory implants are typically inherited by children, but Duy Uyen was working on research important to the empire and the implants are passed along to her colleague Tuyet Hoa instead. The second part focuses on Tuyet Hoa as she adjusts to someone else's memories and continues the work that is Uyen's legacy. Last, we see the perspective of The Tiger in the Banyan, a mindship who was Duy Uyen's child.
I did find the grief of each perspective poignant. Everyone grieves a loss differently, and even the least 'human' of perspectives still rings with truth in this story. As a mother now, the scenes of Uyen's children grieving got me in the gut.
The science was distracting, though. As interesting an idea of growing food by starlight might sound, there are many other low light food plants that could have been the starting point for any serious research into creating a staple to grow in space. The idea that a human mind could be set up to work as a mind ship for many times longer than a human could live was also distracting -- how is one life prolonged but not the other?
Overall, it was an interesting peak in an alternative history universe, but I was distracted by some of the details. I was left a little unsatisfied on the story front, as not much happened - no action, not much character growth; I am not sure if it would have been aided by a focus on just one perspective.
Favorite quote: Because the answer to Professor Duy Uyen’s death, like everything else, was deceptively, heartbreakingly simple: that no one was irreplaceable; that they would do what everyone always did—they would, somehow, forge on.