written by David Steffen
“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart was published in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. The story is posted here for free to read.
Alluvium is the name of a human settlement and the planet its on, a place close enough to Earth in habitat that colonists can live with just nano-infusions to balance out the few chemicals that are toxic to humans. Life is as good as it can be, until the Peshari (a lizard–like alien race) landed and conquered the human settlements. Cerna is one of the settlers still living under their oppressive rule. His friend, Keller, has become sick, since the Peshari took away their all-important nano-fabbers. Keller has taken an interest in the death rituals of the Peshari and how it differs from human death rituals.
This story was slow to start. The beginning scenes didn’t grab my attention very strongly, but I wanted to give the story a chance, to see if it picked up. I’m glad I did, because a scene or two later it did grab my interest, when the death rituals start to take more of a focus. I’ve said before that I would like to see more science fiction that features religion but neither preaches nor demonizes it, and so admittedly this story hit a sweet spot for my personal tastes with its focus on human and alien death rituals and how the effect of ritual and symbol can have on the world. After the slow beginning, the rest of the story held my interest to the satisfying end. Usually I go for stories that connect to me more on a personal level than this one perhaps did, this had more of a golden SF feel to it, but I thought the social and religious ritual aspects of it more than made up for that. This story has my top vote in the novelette category.