Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Short Fiction Month: In-Fall - Ted Kosmatka

Ted Kosmatka is not a prolific short story writer. Only fifteen or so short stories appeared in the last decade, along with three novels. After The N-Word and The Divining Light, In-Fall is the third one I read. It originally appeared in Lightspeed in December 2010. The story is a brief tale that explores both the implications of Einstein's theory of general relativity, as well as those of absolute religious beliefs. The way Kosmatka presents them, they are not radically opposed views.

A boy and an old man face each other on a ship falling towards a black hole. The man wants information the boy is unwilling to provide. When rough questioning has failed, another strategy is called for to convince a true fanatic.

Kosmatka makes some interesting observations about the ease in which ever more densely populated areas can be attacked with relatively easy means, and yet result in a huge number of casualties. He takes it a few steps into the future, but recent terrorist tactics have shown exactly what he means.

That is not the main idea behind the story though. A real fanatic, so Kosmatka reasons, is hard to defeat because death will see them to paradise. What if, by using time dilation effects, you could deny them whatever afterlife they were hoping for? The story ignores this question, but does not lead to the conclusion one might expect.

In-Fall is a brief tale but, under a rather brutal plot, does include a lot of food for thought. It is one of those stories where a science fiction concept allows the author to explore a human topic from a different angle. It is very effective. Given the subject, it might not be everybody's cup of tea, but I thought it was very well done.

Story Details
Title: In-Fall
Author: Ted Kosmatka
Language: English
Originally published: Lightspeed, December 2010
Read in: Lightspeed Year One, edited by John Joseph Adams (2011)
Story length: Short Story, approximately 3,500 words
Awards: None
Available online: Lightspeed


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  2. I did not like this story and its easy acceptance of torture in war on a totally de-contextualised terrorism. However the idea of spiritual torture by denying access to the afterlife is a nice twist. Unfortunately, the physics is wrong in the sense that the time dilatation effect apllies only from an outside system of reference, from inside death would come very quickly. So the Einstein Torture would not be an effective deterrent.

    1. Given the drivel Trump has been spouting about waterboarding and CIA interrogation sites outside the US the tendency to accept or just look the other way is definitely present in today's society though.

  3. He's also cutting back on the number of civil service jobs he proposes to eliminate.