“The Speed of Winter” – by B. Morris Allen

Cover ImageFaced with possible extinction on Earth, humanity has taken a chance. It has invested everything in casting the seeds of humankind to several distant planets in the hope of securing a future for the species.

What new worlds would we settle? What if our assessments on our target were incorrect? When hope is dashed and we are orbiting an uninhabitable wasteland in a man made tomb of steel, how will we adapt? Or will we just fall apart?

Be warned. The Speed of Winter is not a hopeful or happy story. This novella is as bleak as the landscape of the frozen planet the crew of the Ark had hoped to colonise.

The average speed of winter is five meters per second in the steppe and in the desert, but only two meters per second in the valleys. When I first read those words, I was in the high plains of my life, had I but known it, and winter was approaching at great speed. Now I am grey and cold, and winter drags on interminably as I wander the pale, silent valleys of this base.

These are the words that introduce the story and with those words it was was clear to me that the crew were unsuccessful in their quest. What follows is an horrific story of humanity collapsing in the wake of utter hopelessness. Everything was risked for an aim that was completely frustrated by miscalculation and the crew of settlers are eventually warped by despair.

Into this is born a child – an ill-advised addition to the crew in the last stages of their journey. The parents breached a strict directive not to reproduce until after colonisation. The child at first becomes a symbol of hope for an aging crew after many years in hibernation. However, after colonisation is deemed impossible, she becomes the target of mounting bitterness culminating in a series of violent outbreaks.

One of the interesting aspects of this story is the child herself. The reader watches her development in a completely hostile environment, a development which becomes poisoned by the despair around her. Eventually, she becomes a monster – an extreme example of nurture over nature.

If sensitive to violence, I can’t see this novella being easily digested. It’s utterly grim and not even a young child is spared the merciless gaze of an author determined to cut an impression of humanity lost into the reader’s mind. Eventually, humankind’s great hope sets down on the frigid wastes of the planet. The story skips through time at this point – the battle already clearly lost, the last passages merely sweeping up the dregs, presenting us with the eventual frozen tableau of failure.

So what did I think? I really enjoyed it. Not one to shy away from dark ideas, I devoured the story. Not even the child’s loss of innocence in a disturbing passage of violence prevented me from admiring the author’s brave and uncompromising view of hope lost and the resulting descent into madness. It was interesting to me to alter my perspective at times and take the Ark as a microcosm of our world and what fate it could suffer at the hands of a humanity turned desperate.

I know many readers like to have a character to sympathise with, but although admirable characters exist in this story, they are either murdered, tainted or remain largely ineffectual. A good feeling is not the wave the author wants the reader to ride and it becomes difficult to sympathise even with the child  by the end of the story. If none of this deters, I think The Speed of Winter is a short, brutal, but worthwhile look into the darker aspects of science fiction. The novella is planned to be the first of a quartet – each showing the fate of one of four “ark” vessels sent from Earth to distant planets for colonisation. I will certainly be there for the next issue.

Rating: 4/5

Price at the time of review: $2.99 US

Available: Amazon

Author site: http://www.bmorrisallen.com/
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13641150-the-speed-of-winter

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