Speculative Fiction Reviews
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Jumpers, by Mary Rosenblum - Sci-Fiction, 21 July 2004

Jumpers, by Mary Rosenblum

Mary Rosenblum should be familiar to anyone who has read Asimov’s or F&SF over recent years, but “Jumpers” is her first Sci-Fiction piece.

Joaquin Perrera is the son of one of the world’s richest and most ruthless men. His frequent attempts to escape the control of his father end always in failure. His obsession is to prove the scientifically dubious proposition that the dark matter that makes up most of the mass of the universe is caused by “jumpers”, people passing through our universe from others. At the beginning of the story, he has set up his equipment illegally in a genetically engineered plantation that has replaced the Brazilian rainforest. There, a group of armed men attempts to kidnap him, supposedly for ransom. This is simply part of the bitter game of hide-and-seek that he and his father play, a struggle for control. However, this time, he is saved from the mock-kidnap by a strange pair, Zlia and Silvano. Zlia is a genetically engineered woman, designed to efficiently pick fruits from the canopy of the plantation, who is no longer needed now that the chemicals from the fruit can be more efficiently harvested from the sap. Silvano is her lover.

There are some wonderful descriptions of the genetically modified rainforest and the life that clings on in the canopy, above the trunks that the owners of the plantation farm for sap, and of the bleak desolation of the sterilised ground around the plantation. In many ways this is a tragic future, one without much hope or beauty, and Joaquin’s desperate hope to prove the existence of the jumpers is reflected in the desolation of the landscape, particularly in contrast to the beauty through which Zlia moves.

The theme of the story appears to be escape, or the desire for escape. Rosenblum attempts to weave the various threads of the story around that desire. There are the jumpers, the people from another universe, apparently escaping it by jumping through our universe. Then there is Joaquin, constantly attempting to escape from his father, and constantly being brought back. Zlia offers the appearance of someone who has escaped, someone totally free, as symbolised by her near-flying through the rainforest canopy. Finally, Silvano stands in opposition to the desire for escape. “There is no escape,” he says, early on in the story.

Although Rosenblum works hard to spin all of these threads into a single vision, she isn’t totally successful. At the end, I was not totally convinced that the decision the protagonist takes shows what Rosenblum says it does.

In some ways, the speculative element in this, the “jumpers”, and the way they intersect with the story reminded me of Greg Beatty’s “Midnight at the Ichnologist’s Ball”, also published in Sci-Fiction. In both these stories, the almost-ethereal speculative element exists as a metaphor for the destination of the character. Although in the case of “jumpers” it wears science fictional clothes, both stories come closer to being magical realism, and are better understood in that way.

The character of Zlia in “jumpers” is the embodiment of the “savage” trope, or as Nalo Hopkinson referred to it, “the magical Negro”. This savage is at one with nature, and her (or his) only purpose is to show the protagonist the next step on his life. At that point, she (or he) is disposable. Of course, Rosenblum is not unique in her use of this trope. It has been a staple of this genre and some others for a long time. Nonetheless, it can leave a slightly dissatisfied taste in the mouth.

There is a lot to admire in the way Rosenblum makes her metaphors physical and the way that she evokes powerful images in a handful of words, and it is easy to see why her work can be so popular. This is almost the quintessential Sci-Fiction story: the complex, subtle plot, the muted emotional tone, the spare prose. But for me, it did not work quite as well as, say, “The Best Christmas Ever” or “Family Bed”.

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