Cause I Can’t Say No

Hullmetal Girls — Emily Skrutskie

Hullmetal Girls

Emily Skrutskie’s 2018 Hullmetal Girls is a standalone SF novel.

Three centuries ago, a fleet set out from the Solar System determined to find a new world to replace the one they had squandered. Worlds sufficiently Earth-like to support a human population proved rare; to date the only one known is the previous, pre-trashed Earth. Generations after launch, the fleet has settled into a regimented seven-tiered society. Life in first tier, where the administrators live, is tolerable. Life in the impoverished seventh tier is short.

Having learned the hard way that heavy weapons are a poor way to maintain peace in an environment one hull-breach away from mass death, the ruling General Body has turned enforcement over to an elite force of cyborgs, the Scela. Conversion is dangerous, even for teens, and only highly motivated people volunteer to become Scela. Poverty-stricken Aisha Un-Haad, for example, is determined to earn enough to pay for her brother’s medical treatment and to keep her little sister out of the dye factory.

First-tier teen Key Tanaka could not tell you why she volunteered, although her reasons were likely not financial. Where her pre-conversion memories should be is a great blank. Whatever her reasons for submitting to the operation, they must have been compelling.



Increasingly restive over the seemingly endless journey to nowhere in an aging flotilla, a faction of Fractionists agitate to divide the fleet, which they believe will increase the odds of finding a new Earth. Convinced that unity is key to survival, the ruling General Body refuses to give in to demands it believes are suicidal. Aisha, Key, and their two new companions Woojin Lih and Praava Ganes are merely the latest recruits into this ongoing struggle between two worldviews. They function as exoskeleton-clad extensions of the General Body’s will. They are not individuals who are expected to have a significant effect on history.

The General Body does not filter their recruits for unsavoury political affiliations. They do not need to do so because each recruit signs away their personal autonomy. The Scela exoskeleton enhances the volunteer’s physical ability; it also links their nervous systems into a network. This allows the cyborgs to act as a unit. It is also a way to remote control each Scela if need be.

So it should not be a problem that some of the Scela have Fractional sympathies and connections, or that some Scela are increasingly convinced that the General Body is orchestrating some of the outrages the General Body blames on the rebels. Let them stew; they cannot rebel.

Fractionalist sabotage sends the quartet to Alpha 37. A mishap hands them a secret that the General Body is determined to keep hidden. The easiest way for the General Body to ensure that the forbidden knowledge never leaks out is to silence the four. The obvious way for the quarter to avoid some dire fate is to leak the information to the Fractionists before the General Body can act.

A secret revealed at the wrong time could turn social discord into open civil war. In a community of space habitats, that could be species suicide.

 ~oOo~

Hullmetal Girls pulls a Firefly in imagining a justification for the great migration.

“Our ancestors left us with no choice but to wander. It was the life we were born into when the resources of the Old Solar System could no longer sustain our race.”

Given that the fleet has been able to sustain human life for three centuries using a much smaller base of resources than the Solar System offered, this seems hard to accept at face value. It may be the resources of which they speak were specifically Earth’s resources, but in any case they seem to have made a terrible miscalculation when they set out. The fleet could have stayed in the Solar System while FTL scouts looked for a new Earth.

The fact the fleet has functioned for three centuries suggests that either A) it was over-engineered or B) that the General Body was aware that the search would take much longer than they said but kept mum. If there’s one thing we learn about the General Body, it is that it is convinced it needs to maintain unity to avoid disaster and that controlling the flow of information is key to maintaining unity.

In any case, this is not a Milky Way oversupplied with New Earths.

There are thousands of Omega worlds in the database, and thousands more in the spectrum between Omega and Alpha. There are only thirty-seven Alpha worlds.

Alphas may be as near as anyone has found to Earth-like conditions. However, an Alpha world does not necessarily include such amenities as having a breathable atmosphere. This makes sense; Earth itself lacked a breathable atmosphere for most of its history.


Estimated evolution of atmospheric oxygen. The upper red and lower green lines represent the range of the estimates. The stages are: stage 1 (3.85–2.45Gyr ago (Ga)), stage 2 (2.45–1.85Ga), stage 3 (1.85–0.85Ga), Stage 4 (0.85–0.54Ga )and stage 5 (0.54Ga–present)

The story itself treads familiar paths: youths accept dangerous careers because their personal situations leave them few other choices. They find out that their new lives are not what they expected. It’s greatly to the credit of these four that despite the temptation to cynicism and despair, they never lose faith that a better way of
doing things is possible.

Is it? The thousands of kids who participated in recent protest marches hope it is.

Hullmetal Girls is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).


Comments

  • William Stoddard

    That sounded somewhat interesting; the idea of a rigidly structured class society in an economy of real scarcity could be worth exploring. So I took a look at Amazon's entry, which had a posting of the opening passages. One of the first things my eye landed on was a mention that the funeral for Aisha's little brother will involve spacing his body. That sounds like a really bad idea; if you're trying to sustain a closed cycle ecosystem (or a lot of small ones) over several centuries, putting kilograms of water and organic compounds out the airlock every time someone dies is going to add up. And a ruthlessly survival-oriented bureaucratic elite ought to have thought of it. Admittedly Heinlein overlooked that point, too, in "Universe," where dead bodies were used to power the stardrive . . . but one of the great slogans of science fiction is "Think it through." So now I'm feeling a bit cautious. Is this book anything approaching hard SF, or is the interstellar fleet a stage set?

    • NelC

      If the fleet regularly finds worlds with biological material, they can presumably replenish their biomass that way. Even pre-biotic worlds could have hydrocarbons and other materials that might be suitable for conversion to biological material.

      • William Stoddard

        That's a fair point. I'll have to think about reading it when it comes out.

  • James Nicoll

    It's softer than Clement but not as soft as a Chambers' novel.

  • Carl F

    If Tanaka is amnesic, how does she know she's first-tier?

    • Jamoche

      She'd likely be much healthier overall than the lower-tier kids.

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