In the world of Sky, island-sized living zaratanes float through the upper layers of the atmosphere. A zaratán is so big, whole towns live on their backs and go unnoticed. So naturally, people fly to get about, in balloons or anemopters or starships lurking in orbit. It seems like just the place for an ambitious aeronautical engineer. So when Bianca Nazario is offered one last chance to carry on her father’s engineering business, she doesn’t ask too many questions. I think I would have enjoyed “Finisterra,” by David Moles, a lot more if I didn’t ask so many questions.
There are elements of sheer wonder on the grand scale mingled with grittiness at the small scale. Bianca, for instance, comes from a world under the sway of the London Caliphate. Arabic is the language of dominance and science. Christians like her family and getting assimilated or shunted aside. Being an unmarried woman in her thirties, the latter is happening to her, until she ships out through Quito and comes to Sky.
There are elements of global warming. The zaratán Finisterra is dying, sinking into the atmosphere, which will cause the people on it to suffer as it grows too hot for their crops. And there are elements of whale-hunting, with a scene straight out of Moby Dick of a zaratán’s body being flensed. Bianca ends up working for poachers, who want her to engineer a way to bring a full-grown zaratán up into a spaceship. As she says, to hook Leviathan into the sky. It all adds up to a moody Setting Story with wonderful imagery about a fantastic environment being ruined.
My big question is how could these poachers make a living? Supposedly their clients are people who think it’s cool to live on the back of a flying island and want the real thing. So the poachers kill zaratanes, take them apart, and haul the pieces to their clients. But how could this work? It’s made clear that once they’re dead they start to sink. And these buyers still aren’t getting the real thing, only zombified skin and bones. It doesn’t make sense.
Fabulous setting but not quite enough to float my sky-boat.
Tomorrow: Now for an Idea Story.