About What It Means To Survive
McArthur's World is a frozen planet which has been bled dry by mineral mining corporations for three decades. When there is nothing left but ice and snow, the last freighter lifts off carrying away every remaining human being. When it crashes in a wilderness no one has ever returned from, there are only two survivors: a miner who wants to get back to the children he has not seen for two years, and the woman who forced him to come to McArthur's World in the first place.
They think they're alone, until the shrieks in the darkness come.
What It Means To Survive is a short science-fiction story by Lucas Bale. It's around 40 pages long and should take about an hour to read.
About the Author
Lucas Bale writes the sort of intense, gripping science-fiction thrillers which make you miss your train. Stories which dig into what makes us human and scrape at the darkness which hides inside every one of us.
His debut novel, THE HERETIC, is the gateway to the BEYOND THE WALL series, an epic hard science-fiction space opera about the future of humanity and the discovery of the truth of its past.
He wasn't always a writer. He was a criminal lawyer for fifteen years before he discovered crime doesn't pay and turned to something which actually pays even less. No one ever said he was smart, but at least he's happy. He blushes when people mention him in the same sentence as Iain M. Banks or George R. R. Martin, bless him.
If you'd like to hear about new releases before everyone else, get advance review copies of those new releases and every short story he ever writes for free then subscribe to INSIDE, his semi-regular newsletter, here: www.lucasbale.com/inside
If twitter is your thing, you'll find him at @balespen
Let me disclose a few things right at the outset - I received a copy of this story from its author, Lucas Bale. I know Lucas from the KBoards community, and we interact a bit on e-mail and through Goodreads and twitter. We are currently working on an anthology together, along with a few other indie authors, which should drop in 2015. That all said, I did my damnedest to approach this story and this review as a reader first and foremost. Thankfully, Lucas is a fine author, which makes setting aside any professional accords as a fellow author/reviewer rather easy, and I can feel pretty safe in touting his work because I think it's just that damn good. So, on with the show!
Lucas Bale's latest, What It Means to Survive, is a rugged short story of survival on a desolate, frozen alien world.
Simple? Well, simpler than it sounds at any rate. There's a lot of punch packed into these forty-some pages. The story unravels in first-person point of view, and Bale gets to prove the elasticity of his author's voice, submerging himself into the gruffness of a mining hick screwed over by corporate suits. The company was supposed to pay out the insurance money to pay for his wife's sickness, but managed to delay their responsibilities long enough for her to die after they've forced him into a mining job at McArthur's World. Now, all he has left are his two boys, who he hasn't seen in several years and who may not even remember him.
As luck would have it, the woman who maneuvered him into this situation, and whom he pins the blame of his wife's death on, finds herself stuck on McArthur's World, too. With the planet sucked dry, the corporation is shutting down its operations and sending everyone home. But fate, as is often the case, has other plans and tragedy strikes, leaving only these two adversaries alive in a brutal environment filled with blood-thirty animals.
I really loved how Bale stacks the odds against these protagonists, turning everything against them and forcing them to rely on their wits and whatever few provisions they can salvage. McArthur's World is a nasty place, where the environment ranges only between cold and colder. The beasts are interesting, imaginatively complex savages, as are the protagonists who are fueled by mutual animosity but forced to work together. Against all this is the omnipresent threat of their downed ship and its fusion reactor, which could go critical at any moment.
There's a lot happening in this short story, but it never feels like too much. Rather, it struck me as perfectly layered, and the narrative had me locked in a choke-hold throughout. It's a fast, breezy read, but absolutely enthralling throughout. The finale is gutsy and as I watched the minutes left to read in my Kindle progress tracker tick down, I realized that I wasn't quite ready for this story to end yet. I didn't want to leave McAthur's World, and I really wished I could avoid the inevitable business of finishing this story. I wanted more, damn it! Which is hardly a slight. Bale's work here is complete and solid. I just wanted to linger a bit more and stay with this narrator for a little while longer. I think you will to.