THE ONE WITH THE INTERSTELLAR GROUP CONSCIOUSNESSES
JAMES ALAN GARDNER
James Alan Gardner is the author of several novels, including Expendable and the others in the League of Peoples series. His most recent book is Gravity Wells, a collection of his short fiction.
When he was first getting started as a writer, Gardner won the grand prize in the Writers of the Future contest, then went on to win two Aurora Awards (the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award), one of them for his story “Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream,” which was also a finalist for the Hugo and Nebula Awards.
About this story, Gardner says that although the protagonist is somewhat unusual, deep down, he’s really just a lonely guy looking for love. Given that this lonely guy is, in fact, an entire interstellar society, you might say that this story is a romantic comedy of cosmic proportions.
One day, the Spinward Union of Democratic Lifeforms decided to seek a wife.
The Union was roughly two thousand years old—still young by the standards of galactic federations, but no longer a carefree adolescent. It had responsibilities: trade deals with other interstellar entities; mutual defense pacts; obligations to prevent supernovas and gamma ray bursters from blighting the neighborhood; and of course, a quadrillion component organisms who expected the Union to make possible their brief little lives.
[The organisms thought they ran the Union . . . and they did, in the same way that a body’s cells run the body. On a low level, each cell leads its individual life; but on a high level, an aggregate identity emerges, and the cells are minuscule parts of an overall system. The Union was the same: a conscious Zeitgeist made from the sum of its citizens . . . a regular guy who just happened to cover four hundred cubic parsecs.]
There was a time when the Union had felt free to go on benders. Wars, population explosions, unchecked economic binges—they’d seemed like harmless fun at the time. But after such bouts of wretched excess came hangovers lasting for decades. Ugh. Eventually, the Union was forced to admit that the wild reckless life had lost its charm. “I guess,” it said with a wistful sigh, “I’m ready to settle down.”
All that remained was to find the right partner: another interstellar entity who’d complete the Union’s life. An entity who was smart and fun to be with. An entity whose component orgs were carbon-based. (Some of the Union’s best friends were silicon-based, but still . . . ) What the Union was looking for was an entity with its own natural resources, and ideally, a sharp new space fleet. And of course, an entity whose citizens were hot for interbreeding.