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A Cherry Blossom Tree

The Riverbed of the World

By B. C. Holmes 

15 Sep, 2017

A Year of Waterloo Region Speculative Fiction

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B. C. Holmes is:

an IT consultant, a social justice activist (especially in regards to Haiti), a trans person, a writer and cartoonist, an sf fan, a pinko-commie feminist, a film-lover and a Canadian (eh?).

To date they have produced a small but diverse body of work. It includes non-fiction and fiction, graphic (in the sense of comic books) fiction, and spec-fic stories such as Ghosts in the Machine,” Glamour,” and the short work I’m reviewing, The Riverbed of the World.”

PhD student Bethany Lydia Palmer sees the surprisingly humanoid Teesha as potential assets to her neurobio research. That’s enough to send her on the long journey from Earth to Teesh.

Teesha. like humans, are gendered, something of academic and personal interest to Palmer, who is transsexual. She figures she has something to learn from the Teesha, as they have tech (and knowledge, she guesses) more advanced that that possessed by Earth. They were the ones who contacted Earth, after all; it wasn’t the other way round. Perhaps the Teesha understand links between minds and bodies that are as yet mysteries to humans.

Palmer perhaps should have asked herself if the Teesha knew anything that would make sense in a North American academic context. What they tell her is neither comprehensible nor helpful. Anthropology would be more useful than neurobio in this context. 

If this trip isn’t going to get her a PhD, perhaps it will useful in some other way. Such as dealing with personal issues …


A note about the cover art: I didn’t forget. There isn’t any. Strange Horizons is not graphics-heavy.

This may prove to be an exercise in not every reviewer is suited for each story.”

I sympathize with someone whose very specific interests blind them to wider considerations, even as I refuse to learn anything from their example. Intent on studying the biological basis of gender, she’s blind to everything outside her specialty. Her cultural blinkers suggest that, not only is this the first time she has ventured beyond Earth, this is the first time she has ventured out of North America. 

Palmer’s research is predicated on the assumption that Teesha are effectively indistinguishable from humans. That would be extraordinary, if true. The story supports the thesis that it is. But is Palmer at all interested in the odd history, or the implausible parallel evolution, that would explain it? Not at all. Again, she’s blind to the wider context, which foreshadows what happens when she discovers her hosts engage the question of gender in a way that is not directly applicable to her research.

Of course, the story would not work if the Teesha were as different from humans as are clownfish, C. carinata, or ferns. Palmer might still study them, but she would almost certain not make the mistakes that she does. She appears to be correct in her belief they are human. Where she stumbles is on matters of culture. At least she manages to get past the initial shock and learn from her experience.

The Riverbed of the World” is available here.