|Art by Yasmin Khudari|
"Luminous" by A.E. Ash (8878 words)
This story is about age and about loneliness, about transformation and about finding love even later in life. In it, Jyothi is the lone human on a research station. The sense of isolation is strong, and for nine years she has worked because there is nothing else to do. War took the rest of the research station back toward more habituated space, and ever since they left Jyothi has heard nothing from them. It's a lingering mystery of the story, and one that never gets answered. Instead, a different sort of arrival shakes up the daily monotony of Jyothi's life. A star falls to the planet, a man who was once a dying star and was reborn as a human. The story is mixes that magical element with the deep of space, with the slow revolution of days. The man, the former star, experiences being human for the first time, and Jyothi cares for him even as they both come to care for each other on a very deep level. The story has a nice weight of romance, highlighting the bond between these two brought together by mutual isolation. But where their relationship could be defined by avoiding loneliness, the story does a nice job of building up their actual regard for each other, their kindness, their empathy. It's a sweet story, one that had a smile on my face throughout and that provides luminous prose and a dream-like quality to many parts of it.
(Okay, some SPOILERS TO FOLLOW, so if you aren't into that, just take the review above) So part of why I liked the story is because the romantic tropes are a bit easy to see. Here the two people are the only ones on the planet, and it might seem a bit obvious that they'll get together at some point. Like I said above, I really liked that they are actually decent to each other, that their care is very evident. More than that, the biggest thing between their love is age. Jyothi is much older than West and feels bad about that, feels shame and fear that she's taking advantage of him. Which is completely understandable, as he doesn't have much experience and has been dependent on her in some ways. The story solves this with a transformation, and if this was a standard romance we'd see West use his powers to make Jyothi younger. Which does not happen. Which is amazing. Because it means that age is valued, that age is not something to be erased, that age is not a weakness. And that's a message that isn't seen in fiction often at all. Of course, by flipping the trope of the two characters being young together, it does still rather enforce the idea that the two characters need to look the same age. And that I wasn't quite as big a fan of, because obviously their physical ages aren't the only things about them that are important. And I rather think that Jyothi and West could have been together even with the visible age difference. The story ends up caving in some ways to the societal pressures about age even as the two characters are completely separated from society. Still, I can see that the point might have been to specifically play with and flip the trope of old being transformed into youth. And I think it works, because, as I said, I was smiling throughout, and enjoyed the relationship built between Jyothi and West. It's fun and it has some weight and impact and had me rooting for the characters to find their happiness together.
Basically, the story is quite worth checking out. It's treatment of age is subtle and breaks many of the cliches surrounding a relationship between an older woman and a younger man. Some very good stuff, so go read it.