Her is a surreal work, combining science fiction and magical realism in a way that is incredibly unsettling and mind-bending. We follow a high ranking bureaucrat as he handles the ins and outs of working and living on a giant floating woman in space. They don’t know where she came from, they know only that she exists and is a source of useful materials. They mine her toenails, they cut her hair like trees, they use patches of her skin for cloth and paper. On her breast is a space port, in her eyes people swim and sail.
The vision of a planet as a woman has been used as a metaphor since the beginning of human kind. The term “Mother Earth” is well known, although often seen as hokey. Buckell paints a startling and disturbing view of what it would feel like to do to a person what we so casually do to the planet now. The answers are unsettling and sad, the brutality that is shown in the story is casual and thoughtless.
The questions raised are serious and hard to handle. Is it our right to treat our planet so callously? Is our casual taking of resources any different than plundering a sleeping woman? There is an almost unconscious undertone of rape and molestation, and the narrator goes through the story with a constant, slightly sick feeling.
I don’t know if Buckell was truly trying to send an environmental message, or merely evoke a sense of wrongness about taking and using a person or thing so unthinkingly, but either message is valid. There is also the idea that we may someday discover unbelievable things while traveling space, but I can only hope that by that time, we are a kinder, gentler race. As the anthology progresses, I think the story ideas get stranger and more imaginative, and it’s easy to see him growing as a writer as the stories get better and better. More to come soon.