“The Wait is Longer Than You Think” by Adrian Simmons (7746 words)
No Spoilers: John and Colophinanoc (and two AIs) are stranded on an alien world devoid of other sentient life. The piece opens as John relays to Colophinanoc his need for social interaction and meets with a certain amount of resistance—Colophinanoc’s people are largely solitary as adults and find humans to be needy, clingy, and annoying. So John begins to engineer ways to make the two of them spend more time together, so that they can talk, so that John can deal with his loneliness and isolation. As the story moves, however, what starts off as fairly innocent slowly becomes something else. The story is intimate, showing the full weight that isolation has on John while showing how Colophinanoc can deal with these things. So the story becomes about what this isolation does to John, and how he sets his rather human resourcefulness to overcoming the problem. It’s touching and fun, mostly, but it carries a sharpness and a darkness that slowly spread and infect the piece, making the end result rather unsettling and complex.
Keywords: Aliens, Accidents, Marooned, Interaction, Sabotage, Isolation
Review: This story has a interesting take on the “stranded on a deserted island” idea, shooting into space and making one half of the pair not a romantic interest for the main character but his own real contact, responsible in effect for being his entire social network. And there’s a sense here that John’s struggles are worse in part because Colophinanoc is there, that having that presence makes the loneliness and isolation that much worse. That it activates some part of John’s humanity that requires that form this pack, this community. And from the beginning John’s desperation is obvious and rather compelling. Because he’s up against Colophinanoc not really _needing_ him. Perhaps liking that having him around makes the work more manageable, but not particularly _liking_ John, and I love that the story really digs into that need John has to be liked. To be engaged with. And, well, the story does a lot with that as it leans into some very dark territory.
In some ways the story works for me because of how natural some of what John was doing seemed. Against having to be alone, there’s not a lot that a person wouldn’t do, and the story recognizes that John has all sorts of strong desires and emotions that he struggles with. Not that he’s exactly the typical human but that for many it might seem clever to start sabotaging things in their camp in order for there to be more repairs. In some ways it feels like a victimless crime, because it’s not like Colophinanoc dislikes the work. So it seems just like John is having to be inventive in drawing the only other person on the planet into conversation. And what the story does a good job of hiding is the fact that it’s still very much a violation, still very much seeking to circumvent Colophinanoc’s consent. John here is putting his own needs above everyone else’s because he thinks of Colophinanoc as having an unfair advantage. So he “evens things out” in some ways. And again, the fact that mostly it works, and it seems like they can reach an equilibrium satisfying to both them, is part of what drives the tension of the story, makes it seem like it might have a happy ending.
And then, of course, it doesn’t. And fuck, yeah, the story gets real. I like how it shows what happens to John, too, that all of the rationalizations and excuses that he used—that in some ways the reader was asked to accept—are pulled away and broken. What’s left is this terrible knowledge of what has happened, and the shallow possibility that this wasn’t John’s fault. Maybe it wasn’t. But probably it was. Probably it was and having to live with that is something that breaks down all of John’s cleverness and hope and all the structures he had built in his mind to survive. It’s a shattering read at the end, and the sudden shift in perspective makes for an unsettling way to frame the last look at John. And it’s a great read very much worth checking out!