Gunjita and Cav are Gleem Galactic scientists. They work in orbit, searching for extraterrestrial life and how it can be used to extend terrestrial life. But when they find out, maybe, that they have something, it opens up a rift between the two. Juving, the winding back of the body’s clock, has doubled human lifespan but twice is all you get. And Gunjita has already juved twice while Cav has no idea if he wants to join her…
Blumlein’s novella is deceptively quiet and small. It’s fundamentally a story about the evolution of a relationship rather than it’s end, and he repeatedly, cleverly, gets inside his characters’ heads. Cav is quiet, studious and introverted. Gunjita is physically capable, intellectually brilliant and starting to move faster than her aging partner. One of them is exactly where they need to be. One is full of untapped potential. Blumlein shifts who is wearing which hat throughout. He also cleverly shifts the centre of gravity in the relationship from their apparent find, to the arrival of Dash, an old friend and lover to the consequences of their research. The intellectual ideal, and ivory orbital tower, Cav clings to is as beautiful as it is unattainable. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t chase it. It also doesn’t mean Gunjita is prepared to sit by and let him do it.
The result is a slow, measured and ultimately very affecting novella. As Blumlein slowly pulls the focus back we see first how Cav and Gunjita became who they are, then their world and finally their impact on it. The closing sequence, especially a conversation between Cav and Gleem herself is one of the most effective summations of an argument I’ve seen in years. There’s no certainty but within uncertainty there’s CHANCE, and that, for scientists like Cav is all that’s needed. That leads into an ending which is, weirdly, happy for everyone. Every character gets what they want, and every character breaks orbit heading for pastures new. There’s no breakthrough as such, but a hint of something epochal in the wind that’s as tantalizing as it is brief. In this way, Blumlein renders his finale uncertain both for readers and characters. Something arrived, something stayed, something changed and the consequences spread out across the world like shockwaves. The Strugatskian Singularity, glimpsed at the end of life but lingering as an after image.
Longer is measured and weird, wry and intimate. The relationship at its centre is cheerfully crumpled and intimate but has that tinge of fear that comes when someone begins to pull away. It fires ideas that shine at the page (Dash, a surgeon with enhanced touch and a fundamental inability to not help animals is a particular standout) and balances them with moments of quiet sadness and horror. It apologizes for nothing, explains little and I’m still not entirely sure I liked it. I do know I haven’t stopped thinking about it though.