Life at its limits: Paul McAuley dreams up a difficult future for Arc 1.2

22 May

What makes a man?

Paul McAuley’s new story for Arc 1.2 – stark, unsettling, and ultimately moving – proposes a radical answer.

The Man is illustrated by Alex Andreev, an artist living in St Petersburg. For more of his haunting, epic graphic design, visit http://alexandreev.com

Paul McAuley worked as a research biologist and was a lecturer in botany at St Andrews University before becoming a full-time writer, since when he has published over eighty short stories and nineteen novels, including Fairyland (winner of the Arthur C. Clarke and John W. Campbell Awards) and The Quiet War, Gardens of the Sun, and In The Mouth of the Whale. 

His fascination with harsh landscapes and their biological possibilities comes to the fore in The Man, set on the terminator of a tidally locked alien planet. Here, humans scrape a living, scavenging technology from ruined and derelict factories. People have been gifted access to alien worlds, but can they prove themselves equal to the opportunity? Are human beings good enough? Is the human idea of ‘good’ big enough?

“It was as dark as it ever got in the sunset zone. Low, fast-moving clouds closed off the sky. Howling winds drove waves onshore and blew horizontal streamers of snow into the forest, where the vanes of spin trees madly clattered and coronal discharges jumped and crackled. Ziyi was hunkered down in her cabin, watching an ancient movie about a gangster romance in Hong Kong’s fabled Chungking Mansions. A fire breathed in the stone hearth and her huskies, Jung and Cheung, sprawled in a careless tangle on the borometz-hide rug. The dogs suddenly lifting their heads, the youngest, Cheung, scrambling to his feet and barking, something striking the door. Once, twice.

“Ziyi froze the movie and sat still, listening. A slight, severe woman in her late sixties, dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, white hair scraped back in a long ponytail, jumping just a little when there was another thump. It wouldn’t be the first time that an indricothere or some other big dumb beast had trampled down a section of fence and blundered into the compound. She crossed to the window and unbolted the shutter. Pressed her cheek against the cold glass, squinted sideways, saw a dim pale figure on the raised porch. A naked man, arm raised, striking the door with the flat of his hand.”

Find out what happens next in Arc 1.2, out next Monday for screens, tablets phones and e-readers, and in a collectible print edition. Visit http://arcfinity.org for details. 

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