Hugo Novella Review: “Flow” by Arlan Andrews, Sr.

written by David Steffen

“Flow” by Arlan Andrews Sr. was published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.  Analog published it free to read online as part of the Hugo season.

Rist and Cruthar live with their people in the Tharn’s Lands where the world exists in unending hazy twilight.  They make their living by riding icebergs that break off from the greater ice mass to sell them to warmlanders further south.  In this story Rist takes his first berg-riding trip to the south, where the sky is blue and the light burns brightly in the sky.  They are only meant to take the iceberg as far as the ice broker, but Rist gets the idea to ride the iceberg further south, and so he and the more experienced Cruthar go on to the strange lands of the south for an adventure.  People from different lands have lived separately long enough to gain differentiating racial features, including extreme farsightedness so that none can see things clearly up close in favor of far vision.  The people of the Tharn’s Lands used carved figurines for writing, and Rist keeps a journal of everything he does, and everything he learns to share with his family (both on a philosophical level and things that might have applications in their merchant business).

For me this story brought a lot of the good old “sense of wonder” of golden age science fiction.  Both the Tharn’s Lands and the warmlands are foreign and interesting, and because the character is learning about the warmlands as the story goes on and contrasting it with his home, the story gets a lot of this comparison in.  As the story goes on Rist keeps his journal, and I find his insights about the other world interesting, to reinforce his worldview that is very different from mine–even considering the sun and the moon to be foreign concepts because of the haze of the Tharn’s Lands.

The only part that got a little bit annoying was that Rist repeatedly went on about the breasts of the women of the warmlands–it makes sense in some fashion because apparently the Tharn’s Lands women don’t have prominent breasts (another genetic differentiator like the eyesight, though it wasn’t clear why this particular thing would differentiate while leaving the two races sexually compatible) but it felt rather random and distracting in a story that I otherwise thought was quite solid.  It also struck me as unimaginative in an otherwise imaginative story that, of course a man who has never seen breasts would find them attractive, when really there could be a variety of reactions that would be more interesting–concern about her health, wondering if they hurt all the time, or being put off by their strangeness since to him they may not seem natural.  But, really, that was the only sour note in the whole thing for me, and a pretty minor one at that.

A note at the beginning of “Flow” indicates that the characters were first seen in “Thaw, which was previously published in Analog.  I could definitely see the shape of that other story, with some references to past experiences together in this one, but I thought this story stood well enough on its own, and I always felt like I had enough information.

I quite enjoyed this story and I recommend it for those who like a little longer stories with a sense of adventure and exploration of one fictional culture from the perspective of another fictional culture.  It has my top vote in the Novella category.