Desert Spirituality: a review of Stant Litore’s “Ansible 15716”

This is the second short story in Mr Litore’s intense ‘Ansible’ series.

The stories tell the story of Starmind, a future interstellar exploration organisation that travels across galaxies not by hulking or sleek star-ships, but through the mind. Starmind team members can project themselves, after rigorous selection and training, telepathically across the void until they ‘possess’ the mind of another alien being to make the much prized ‘first contact.’

In the previous story, “Ansible 15715” (see previous post), the results were terrifying and horrific, an encounter with a hostile soul eating parasite that’s on its way to destroy us.  This time, there’s also terror, but it’s of the horror of isolation, of being lost and alone and cut off from your kind.

Ansible 15716’s protagonist wakes up in the body of a creature that’s a mash up between a spider and a camel and speaks through fluted apertures in its thighs (that’s a sentence no-one will expect to write!   And it’s a measure of Mr Litore’s skill as a writer that you accept this and go with the flow).  His team members are gone, and it’s not clear where.  He sends desperate psi-casts (telepathic messages) to home, but he knows chances of reception are negligible.  He can only live his life as one of these creatures, neither human, nor truly one of them.  He’s surrounded by an endless desert of salt, full of immense and towering structures.  He tries to flee, but can find no boundary, and is forced to return to his point of departure.

Stant’s world building, in the limited canvas of a short story, is laudable.  This future world sees God as far from dead. There is a sense of how pivotal faith is in the universe of this story. Both of his protagonists so far in this series have prayed to Allah in their desperation and their are references to how religious principles underpin the characters motivations. Mankind’s yearning for new territory and contact and the burgeoning power of Starmind is well evoked, as well as the ruthlessness of the vocation.  The alien world and its indigenous species is a real feather in the writer’s cap.  He conjures a race that is truly alien, bewildering in its strangeness, and yet recognisable because it is drawn with such integrity.

The story describes the spiritual isolation of its protagonist, but it’s also a hymn to desert spirituality.  There is a terrible beauty in being lost in immensity, and in utter silence being thrown back to reach out with mind and heart to a God who can also answer with silence.  Certainly the protagonist is not given a hot-line to the Almighty.

This is an amazing short story and I’m looking forward to seeing the direction future installments take.  Will the horrors of the first develop into a story arc amidst more episodic installments?  Will we learn more of Starmind and its world?  My guess is yes and yes.

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