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Little Faces, by Vonda N. McIntyre - Sci Fiction, 23 February 2005

Little Faces, by Vonda McIntyre

It is rare to find a far-future SF story that is at once truly alien, completely believable and unique. Vonda McIntyre manages it in Little Faces. Some vast span of years from now, humanity is entirely spacebound. Solitary women fly from star to star in their sentient spaceships, rarely coming together. The part of the male of the species is played by companions, small creatures embedded in the flesh of the women, little more than sharp-toothed faces, genitals and memories of the lovers who donate them to their hosts.

The story concerns Yalnis, a (relatively) young woman who has decided (along with her spaceship) to give birth for the first time. It begins with Yalnis the most recent victim of the predatory Seyyan, an older, nearly-legendary woman. Seyyan and one of her companions have murdered Yalnis's favourite companion and want to replace it with a companion grown from Seyyan, which would contain Seyyan's memories. Grief-stricken, Yalnis rejects Seyyan and shuns her, and thus a showdown is set up which will draw in dozens of others.

If there is one thing to criticise, and in truth any criticism is unjust in this story, it is that the story itself does not rise to the same magnificent heights as the world building. That is not to say that the story is bad; it certainly isn't. It is a fine story. It is simply that against such a grand, imaginative canvas it seems a little ordinary.

Little Faces is wonderfully unique. If one was to look for others to compare it to, one might come up with a blend of Benjamin Rosenbaum's stories Droplet and Embracing-the-New, the latter of which is on this year's Nebula ballot. McIntyre's story, too, deserves a place on that ballot next year.

As you grow older, sense of wonder is an increasingly rare commodity, so that when you find it, you treat it like the gold it is. With Little Faces, Vonda McIntyre has mined that vein and offered its product to us. Had the story itself matched the universe McIntyre has created, this would have been one of the great classics of modern SF. As it is, it is merely fantastic.

--Patrick Samphire, 01 March 2005

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