Premee Mohamed’s 2021 These Lifeless Things is a near-future cosmic horror novella.
Eva is fortunate enough to witness humanity’s first contact with otherworldly intelligences. More exactly, she is part of the very small fraction of the human population to survive Them.
Where do Themkind come from? Nobody knows. The first hint of their arrival was widespread power failure — Earth’s newest residents do not care for high technology — followed by mass deaths of the most horrific kind. Human population dropped from billions to tens of millions.
Humans did their best to resist. Too bad for the humans that human weapons didn’t seem to be able to kill the encroachers (although the bombs dropped by hopeful pilots certainly helped reduce human numbers considerably). Earth quickly became a quieter, much less populated world.
Humans did survive. Fifty years later, researchers like Emerson are trying to unravel the mystery of the Setback, as it is now known. People during the invasion were too busy staying alive to keep meticulous records and those who did survive are stubbornly close-mouthed about their experiences. Researchers must piece together physical and written evidence from the days of the Setback. Evidence like Eve’s journal.
Eve was trapped within the city. She and her allies learned the hard way which behaviors attracted the attention of Them. Maintaining a low profile, the survivors scrounged for food while worrying that one or more of their supposed allies had secretly bridged the gulf between humans and Them (and chosen to serve the winning side).
Fate hands Eve a chance to strike back at the occupiers. Success is unlikely. So is survival. Nevertheless …
I sure hope this is not Beneath the Rising ’s future.
This is the first of Rebellion Publishing’s Solaris Satellites novella line. It’s amazing how far novellas have come in the last half-decade: from an also-ran category of fiction; to a promising one dominated by a single publisher; to something multiple publishers compete to produce. Perhaps this is due to the never-ending crisis in which we live these days; who retains enough energy and focus to read all the way through a tome? Let alone dozens of tomes.
This is perhaps not the feel-good story many of you may want to read, what with the violent demise of 99.5% of the human species . On the plus side, half a percent of almost eight billion people is still 40 million people, more people than live in Canada. That’s not too far off global population back when the Assyrian Empire was at its peak. It’s more than enough people for a viable gene pool, as our current world demonstrates. And the descendants of the survivors in the novella have recovered a lot of the pre-Setback toolkit, including but not limited to vicious academic rivalry. Sabotage by colleagues is an issue not limited to people fending off alien invaders.
Remember when reviewers could argue that fictional characters would not have forgotten major, paradigm-shifting crises? That would be implausible! But since we have had recent real-time experience of people memory-holing (or attempting to memory-hole) significant events, such historical amnesia may not be so implausible after all.
Post apocalyptic novels are generally long on two-fisted persons of action. Mohamed takes her work in a different direction, not least because the life expectancy of a two-fisted person of action would be quite short in the period immediately following the invasion. (Eve not an action hero.) It should also be noted that universities, Professor Jones to the contrary, are not all that keen on hiring action heroes. (Emerson not an action hero.) Both Eve and Emerson have to deal with issues for which a quick punch in the face is not the best solution. Mohamed skillfully presents both traumatized survivor and embattled academic and the dissimilar eras in which they live.
I would rue having run out of new Mohamed cosmic horrors to read… except of course there’s this in Mount Tsundoku….
These Lifeless Things is available from the publisher.
1: Other species also seem to be targeted by Them, so this is quite possibly a substantial extinction event.