The old fire to gather languages into the fold burned low these days.
There are many sorts of endings, each with its own sort of sadness, each leading to something new in its own way. “The Evening and the Morning,” by Sheila Finch, layers endings and beginnings in an elegant and finely controlled artwork that confronts deep questions.
Crow, Eruditus Emeritus of the Guild of Xenolinguists, undertakes a mission at the request of an old friend. The old friend’s daughter will lead the mission, a nod to the theme of new generations superseding the old. Indeed, the mission crew also includes a young xenolinguist whose training and equipment imply the age of the more senior Crow.
The mission to Earth reveals a changed planet from the one familiar to contemporary readers. I admired Finch’s touching descriptions of our home planet in a future when abandonment has given it some time to heal from birthing us. Animals abound, but humans and machines are absent.
And that ending holds one of the story’s mysteries: where are the people? Crow’s search for the answer to this question propels him to consider many things: how can the Guild of Xenolinguists survive change? Are all forms of life fated to end in death, in conflict? Is there something higher still to be known?
Simply: What should Crow do with the life that remains to him? The story’s characters, human, Venatixi, AI, animal, all provide fragments of the answer. True to lingster form, Crow does best when sorting through the threads of meaning he gathers from them all.
Endings and beginnings abound. The Guild of Xenolinguists evolves, friends pass on, and Crow’s life draws toward its end … but not yet. First, there is time for love, for music, and for the finding of amazing answers.
“The Evening and the Morning” appeared in the March/April 2011 Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.