As with “The House Beyond Your Sky,” what impresses me most about “Tideline,” by Elizabeth Bear is the sound and imagery of the prose. Here’s the opening:
Chalcedony wasn’t built for crying. She didn’t have it in her, not unless her tears were cold tapered glass droplets annealed by the inferno heat that had crippled her.
Such tears as that might slide down her skin over melted sensors to plink unfeeling on the sand. And if they had, she would have scooped them up, with all the other battered pretties, and added them to the wealth of trash jewels that swung from the nets reinforcing her battered carapace.
…she was the last of the war machines, a three-legged oblate teardrop as big as a main battle tank, two big grabs and one fine manipulator folded like a spider’s palps beneath the turreted head that finished her pointed end….
I love “plink” and “battered pretties” and the “spider’s palps” (though I would like pedipalp better). I like the musical S’s of the tears. And maybe I like the spider imagery because I think spiders are neat.
Along with the musical qualities, the story is a simple one of two mismatched beings who come together. Chalcedony is “living” out her days on a beach, gathering objects to weave into necklaces to remember the platoon she fought with. Maybe Chalcedony is a combat robot, but she’s intelligent and meant to form a bond to humans. So naturally she rescues a boy, Belvedere. A more practical gatherer than she, he comes to the beach for butterfly coquinas to eat. She tells him stories and teaches him how to fend for himself. Their friendship is charming, but you know from the beginning it can’t last. When the end finally comes–well, maybe Chalcedony’s not built for crying, but I am.
You can hear it read on Escape Pod.
Next week: The Hugo novelettes