The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
This is a first novel by a very promising new writer. It feels a bit like Ursula K. LeGuin and NK Jemison, in that it tells a sweeping galactic tale by focusing on the intensely personal consequences of scientific advancement. At the center of this story is the time-distortion postulated for faster-than-light travel—the theory that people travelling through space experience only a few day’s passage of time, while years go by for those they have left behind. The people who travel frequently can bear witness to hundreds of years of history but are left with a sense of missing out on the important things in life.
The story skips through time and space, linked by three space-faring, lonely protagonists. We see the establishment of lovely, bird-shaped space stations after the extinction of the birds on Earth, through the eyes of an ancient woman. Through letters sent to her colony ship from the woman she left behind, we see the end of life on Earth. We see the wonder (and, eventually, corruption) of the newly-colonized galaxy, barely registered by a space captain who left her family too soon and a pre-teen boy who never had a family. It is a beautiful but melancholy story, a thousand years of galactic history condensed by the people it has left untethered.
A bit over half way through the novel, as the captain, the boy, and a small group of ship-mates deliberately pass centuries of real time by planet-hopping, the author tells us, “They were always leaving.” It took me a while to realize that, if one is always leaving, of course, one must also be always arriving. I’m not sure Jimenez ever realized this—he is a young man probably living in pandemic isolation amid world-shattering change. But, for me, the book became a story about the importance of learning to arrive; a reminder that where you are at any moment must be more important than the places you thought you might be going next.
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