by Robert Reed
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Robert Reed has provided an enormous eon-spanning story in the form of a novelette with “Mere.” Focusing on an apparently immortal human being, the Mere of the title, and her life on the alien world of the Tila, Reed engages the reader’s sense of wonder as he creates an alien world and a portion of their culture based on the appearance of a human.
Mere, however, is human in gene only, if even that. She comes from a time when she has acquired apparent immortality and the ability to heal from even the most dire wounds. In fact, when she first arrives on planet, she is merely a fetus in the incubator-like remains of a once mighty and near-sentient starship. Adopted by the Tila, she is revered as a god and slowly comes to become a more accepted and mundane part of their society.
Mere has no models for human behavior, and the Tila do not treat her as a member of their culture, instead either elevating her or denigrating her, based on their society’s needs at any given moment. Because of this, she never demonstrates complete human behavior, however Reed has elected to “hardwire” her with enough basic human traits that the reader can empathize with her and see Tilan civilization and the various threats, both Tilan-made and natural, that they must face.
Due to its short length and the period of time it covers, despite a leisure pace, “Mere” does seem rushed. While Reed is able to spend the time he wants on each aspect of Mere’s story, the scope of that story appears to want a much longer, more detailed, and perhaps more philosophical telling.In addition to the story, Reed includes a lengthy Afterword in which he discusses the genesis for the story as well as how it fits with Marrow and the forthcoming The Well of Stars. Nearly as long as the story, this piece, much like a commentary on a DVD, adds to the enjoyment and understanding of the story.