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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Strange Horizons, May 16 - 23, 2005

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"Planet of the Amazon Women" by David Moles

Intrepid David Moles! He has boldly chosen to touch down on the "Planet of the Amazon Women," that SFnal territory so notably colonized by Russ and Tiptree. Hippolyta has been under quarantine for a century, since a causal anomaly generated the Amazon Fever that killed all the world's male organisms, but now Sasha Rusalev, natural philosopher and agent of the Irrationality Office, has come to investigate the anomaly and, perhaps, to lift the quarantine. Everyone else seems to think he will only die in this attempt, being a male on Hippolyta, and they are right; he does. However, this is hardly the triumph of militant feminism that some readers might suppose: the Amazon planet slaying its would-be conqueror. Moles is not so unsubtle an author.

For one thing, Sasha's sexual orientation makes him uninterested in the lustful conquest of females, in "colonialist harem fantasies." And the Hippolytans are not stock Amazons. Sasha encounters women there who consider him a threat, that he might lift the quarantine on their world and bring them back into contact with men. He meets some who consider their world a prison and are planning escape, some who might entertain dreams of men, and one who wonders if he has come to Hippolyta in hope of being changed to a woman. But Sasha insists that none of these reasons apply. His only reason for coming to Hippolyta, for risking his life, is that he is "the kind of person who can't look at a knot without wanting to untie it."

The knot in question is the causal anomaly that spawned the Amazon Fever. But what is a causal anomaly, and what is he really trying to do, to unravel it? It must be obvious by this point that Moles' story is not the literal sort of science fiction, where the scenario falls within the familiar limits of the known laws of science. This is fantasy, where we know quite well it is all fantasy, and the author knows that we know, and an important part of our enjoyment is the author's juggling act with pseudoscientific jargon of this sort: "I'm hoping to use a Caliphate mathematical technique to establish a metastable equilibrium that allows convex regions with real and virtual histories to coexist in four-dimensional space-time, while remaining both topologically distinct and contiguous in five-space." We are not supposed to understand from this that something like a causal anomaly might actually exist. The real question for the reader is, what does it mean in the context of the story?

Philosophical Excursus:

According to Sasha, the universe is now acausal; the causality barrier has fallen. We recall that Kant once taught us that causality is one of the Categories of the Understanding: one of the ways we impose our own order on the universe, not an ordering principle of the universe-in-itself. But Sasha seems to be making a different claim: that the universe itself has undergone a change from causality to acausality. "Given a single contradiction, one can prove the truth or falsehood of any proposition. The fall of the causality barrier has given us all the contradictions any mathematician could wish for. This is the one fundamental truth-and falsehood-of the universe."

Now if the universe is full of contradictions, if there is no causality, no relationship between cause and effect, won't things always be happening for no particular reason whatsoever? But for an acausal universe, this one seems to work suspiciously like the one in our own reality. When Sasha pours tea, it does not turn into gasoline; when he rides a mule, his muscles get sore; when the sun rises on Hippolyta, the night becomes day. For all we can see, this is indeed a universe where one thing happens after another. In fact, it seems that causal anomalies are not very commonplace in Sasha's universe, that the Phenomenological Service attempts to cover up the few minor cases before anyone might notice. The only notable anomaly is on Hippolyta, in one particular region of Hippolyta. Here, then, is the object of Sasha's interest, for if he is a student of causal anomalies, it does make some sense for him to risk his life in this pursuit of the only one available. His investigation may have the effect [effect?] of curing the Fever or lifting the quarantine, but he can't be sure what will happen until he is there.

So Sasha travels to Hippolyta and thence northward, to cross the probability boundary. As he does, something happens. We cannot be sure whether this happening is the world changing Sasha, or Sasha changing the world, or both. Or if such a change takes place whenever anyone crosses the boundary, or if it happened because [because?] Sasha [a male] crossed it. Or what part the quantum inference engines [otherwise unexplained] might have played. But suddenly, everything is altered, and we are no longer in the same universe, on the same world, with the same history. Almost the last thing Sasha sees, before the Fever claims his life, is the space elevator that was destroyed at the beginning of Hippolyta's quarantine. On this Hippolyta, there has never been a quarantine. On this Hippolyta, in this universe, there have never been men, and it is Sasha himself who is the contradiction. This is why he must be eliminated: because where he is, he can not have ever been.

The problem is, how can we understand any of this without thinking in terms of cause and effect, of things happening one after the other? We are left with too many questions unresolved. What caused the anomaly to appear on Hippolyta a century ago? Why was the planet given that name, before the Fever eliminated the men? Was the anomaly the cause of the Fever? Did Sasha cause some change when he crossed the probability boundary? What might have happened had he crossed back, in the other direction? Has Sasha become a woman, and if so, is she really dying at the story's end? And how can the women of Hippolyta be telling the same story about themselves, when there is no agreement among them?

The problem is, Moles is asking us to accept the impossible, but he has so many different objects spinning up in the air, juggling balls, bowling pins, chainsaws, kitchen sinks, that we begin to suspect what the contradictions really may mean is that the whole thing makes no sense. There are just too many ends flying around loose, there is just too much stuff here for it all to be compressed into the limited space of this novelette.

And upon this surmise, the reader makes inquiry [thank you, Google] and discovers that indeed, this story is intended as part of a larger work that Moles calls a "gonzo space opera" dealing with causality violation. I anticipate, from the evidence of what we have seen here, that it may turn out to be an interesting work when all the ends are finally given the space to resolve themselves.