In the city of Bangalor, India, fifty years in our future, a murder is committed. Sub-Inspector Ferron is called in to investigate. This is the simple beginning to this short tale, which proves to be neither simple nor short by the end of its 77 pages.
In Sub-Inspector Ferron, Bear conveys a three-dimensional character, not by dumping a page of backstory as so many authors do, but by weaving a tapestry whose threads extend off the page, connecting her to her mother, her relatives, her career choice, her culture and colleagues, and even her choice of name. This is done with economy of words; after the first paragraph describing the highly unusual crime scene, Bear drops in wryly, "Ferron was going to be late visiting her mother after work tonight."
As the fairly standard investigation of this non-standard crime proceeds, Ferron's relationship with her mother forms an important thread. Everyone who has dealt with parental disapproval of career or lifestyle choices, parental addictions, or parental insolvency, will recognize the patterns, though the thread from which they're woven is new and unfamiliar. We would consider cell phones, internet service, and cable TV necessities today, which would seem as strange to someone from fifty years in our past as the needs of these characters seem to us. Are the true necessities of life timeless, or a product of our times?
The culture of India is the backdrop to this story, taking few words but adding the flavoring of cardamom and coriander to the mixture. The icons of Ganesha, Aryamen, and Varuna in various locations, the Hindu names of the constellations, and the names and forms of address all add an exotic flavor (unless, of course, that happens to be the culture you hail from).
All of that is skewed by the placement fifty years in the future. That not only makes the crime possible, but carries an implicit history of our future that gives hope that we will solve many of our problems. The populace lives an energy-frugal life, with integrated vertical farms in residential buildings, solar powered buses, pedicabs, and the mentioned but never quite explained "pedestrials". Gratuitous travel has been curtailed so much by telepresence that having someone fly in for the case is a momentous event. And of course the bio-engineered pets that could have come from a Japanese anime form a whimsical but pivotal point in the story.
The final dimension, the axis that spindles through all of these layers, is the flickering star in Andromeda that provides the opportunity meditate as to what this all might mean from the perspective of billions of miles and millions of years.
When I began by saying that the story was neither simple nor short, despite the small page count, I meant that there is much that is implied, that extends beyond the edges of the page, or that fills in the gap between our time and that one. It left me with a number of points to ponder for the next few days. What more could one ask of a story?
About these recommendations
In this series, we bring you a selection of books that we enjoyed, and highlight the qualities that made them work for us.