Hugo 2019 Novelettes: Nine Last Days on Planet Earth by Daryl Gregory

Nine days over the period 1975 to 2062 in a very slow invasion of Earth. We meet LT as a child in Tennessee. An incredible meteor shower lights up the sky.

“LT was ten years old, and he’d only seen one falling star in his life. Not even his mother had seen this many at once, she said. Dozens visible at one time, zooming in from the east, striking the atmosphere like matches, white and orange and butane blue. The show went on, hundreds a minute for ten minutes, then twenty. He could hear his father working in the woodshop back by the garage, pushing wood through a whining band saw. Mom made no move to go get him, didn’t call for him.”

Each year follows LT through his life as his circumstances changes. His mother moves to Chicago, his father retreats into religion. LT follows new loves, intellectual and physical, and grows up. Meanwhile, around him the world changes in more alien ways.

The events of that night in 1975 brought alien seeds to Earth. Strange, possibly empathic plants begin to multiply and humanity has to adjust to their botanically invasive ways.

There are echoes here of the puply 1960’s movie version of Day of the Triffids or the bleak inevitability of Thomas M Disch’s novel The Genocides. The alien plants are slow invaders, who might defeat humanity through indefatigable progress and our capacity to ignore slow change. These particular plants also have some kind of empathic quality, encouraging people to adopt them as house plants and connect with them.

“The fern man stood in the dark on the coffee table. Its bulb head drooped sleepily, and its stem arms hung at its sides. The torso leaned slightly—toward the window, LT realized. He picked up the ceramic pot and set it on the sill, in a pool of streetlight. Slowly, the trunk began to straighten. Over the next few minutes, the head gradually lifted like a deacon finishing a prayer, and the round leaves at the ends of its arms unfurled like loosening fists. The movement was almost too incremental to detect; its posture seemed to shift only when he looked away or lost concentration. Slow Mo, he thought. That’s what we’ll call you.”

However, the invasion is in the background. The main melody of the piece is the changing family relationships of LT, from child to adolescent, to first romance, to marriage and parenthood himself, as well as the connection (or otherwise) with ageing parents.

The timescale and time shifting sections create a deep picture of LT through his life as well as a map of the invasion of Earth. The effect is like a time lapse film of a plant’s movements which forces us to shift our perspective of the botanical from immobile beings to creatures that shift and react and move, just not at the pace we perceive. That we also don’t see how our relationships change from day to day is an apt metaphor for the “plant speed” timeline. In the 2062 sections LT reflects: “Everything moves too fast, he thought, or else barely moves at all.”

A melancholy story mixing regret and happiness with a sense of the force of slow movements.


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