The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Monday, November 21, 2005

"Luciferase" by Bruce Sterling: An Appreciation by Richard Butner

That's some tight ideation, jack ... a snake as described by a firefly:

"The grass snake had teeth, a tongue, bones, scales, ate anything, never stopped growing, and apparently lived forever."

(If you haven't read "Luciferase" yet, go do that. These meager comments can wait.)

In "Luciferase" Bruce Sterling violates Strunk & White with glee and with considerable effect, sprinkling in adjectives and adverbs like glitter:

"She was colossally huge, crazily powerful, treacherous, grisly, and fanged, but she was kind of growing on him."

and writing in exclamations:

"Love is a carnival! It's an adventure! There should be tenderness in all this, there should be soulfulness! The unexamined light is not worth flashing! A man and woman in sexual union are the very hinge of futurity!"

The exclamation points in particular carve out characters who are in continuous agitated states, perched on the brink of the existential abyss. Hunter Thompson is the mostly-unacknowledged influence here (but that's a whole essay that needs writing by someone else some other time, the influence of Thompson on cyberpunk, both in the frenzied style and the brand-name obsession.)

Only Bruce knows the exact ticklings of the spearhead of cognition that led him to write a funny animals story. In true hard sf fashion, though, it had to start with a scientific article about fireflies. Maybe it was "Summer flings: firefly courtship, sex, and death," by Sara Lewis and James E. Lloyd in the July-August 2003 issue of Natural History?

In some old-school fictionizing of this, or even in some coldhearted cyberpunk riff on it, biochemistry would be destiny, the end. But there's too much funny and too much pretty here, and it's finally more important than any cold equation about natural selection. Here, art beats food.


"Your head is three times too big! Your mouth is a mass of fangs! And your ass is enormous. You know what? You're not alluring. You're a giant, ugly cannibal."


"Light shocked out of his slatted belly and the world exploded with meaning. He was a glowing arc across the nullity of darkness."

Glee, that's the word I keep coming back to when I think about this story, and many of Bruce's stories. The glee that, manacled as we are by the slipshod evolutionary parameters of biology, there are still interesting choices to be made as we look out into the void and it looks back at us.

Link to story.


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