Short Story Review: “Canterbury Hollow” by Chris Lawson

Title: “Canterbury Hollow”
Author: Chris Lawson
Format: Short Story
Pages: 13 (in a small magazine format, though)
Published: in the January/February 2011 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Reason for Beginning: Interesting title and the shortest of the stories in the magazine (I was reading at my job during downtime).
Reason for Finishing: Quite interesting story, with some good characters and narration. Ending is a mixed bag, I guess.
Spoiler-free Synopsis: On a future planet where the humans have been forced into underground cities by a killer sun, two lone characters, both of whom expect to die soon, meet, fall in love, and must decide how to spend their remaining weeks.
Story Re-readability: Some, yes, mostly to better pick out all the little worldbuilding details he scatters tastefully throughout.
Author Re-readability: For the most part his style is straightforward and not shy about the sci-fi elements. Sometimes you have to do a little detective work to figure out the society he’s writing about, since he reveals facts in bits and pieces, and often through implication. There was a section where he tries to be deeply philosophical in a classic sci-fi manner, with big words and existential, evolutionary abstractions, and it doesn’t work very well, in my opinion. But they’re short, and the rest of the story works pretty well. If I saw another short story with Lawson’s name to it, I’d read it.
Recommendation: Sure, if you’re interested in character-based sci-fi that’s more about ideas and emotions than technology, adventure, or exploration. It’s definitely not my favorite kind of sci-fi, but it was an interesting, thought-provoking read.

Obtainability: I found a PDF of it here.

Brief Thoughts & Some Spoilers

What I understand about the universe of “Canterbury Hollow” is this. It’s at least 500 years in the future, and Earth has been abandoned in favor of various planets many light-years away. The planet Musca, our setting, was settled by humans before they realized that its nearby sun was unstable and fast approaching its death. As the sun grew hotter and scorched the surface, people began to realize that they could not continue living there. The first Deep Citizens of Musca were those who dug miles down and excavated the First Chamber, a cavern just large enough to house up to ten thousand people. But as the heat continued to grow and the atmosphere started to burn away, they dug deeper, creating whole new cities in caverns and tunnels that they then sealed off from the surface, finding ways to provide sustainable food and air for themselves under the planet’s surface. Eventually a huge elevator to the surface was built for tourists, leading to an artificial pocket of air called the Sundome that is maintained over the ruins of the last surface city. This is the only way people can safely see the sun and stars (the atmosphere having completely burned away). This is also where our main characters meet.

Arlyana and Moko meet under the Sundome and soon find out that they both are…well, I’ll leave a little bit to remain secret. Their relationship is sudden, maybe a bit too much so, but it’s sweet. You can understand why they make some of their impulsive choices. Like I said above, the ending is a bit mixed for me, but unfortunately I can’t say much about it without ruining it. I wish it didn’t end the way it does, because it feels a tad too depressing. I want to use the word existential, but I’m not sure if I’d be using it correctly, seeing how diverse the philosophies of existentialism are and how limited my current understanding. However, I can also see a reading of the end that is more positive and romantic in nature. Rather than bow to fate, the characters do take some measure of control over their own lives and find a way to be together. In a manner of speaking. But my chattering is useless now, because of the necessary vagueness that comes with talking about something without really talking about it.

And besides, it’s a short enough story that you can read it quickly enough and decide for yourself what you think about it.

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