The Cross and the Cosmos Issue 12 -- Free Fall
Longtime readers of The Cross and the Cosmos will immediately recognize many of the elements in “Free Fall” by Cathryn Rose, the fourth of five stories in Issue 12. “Free Fall” seems to be set in the same science fiction universe that we saw in the survival tragedy “Wind Farm Annie” by Tony Lavoie, back in the very first issue. “Free Fall” makes some allusions or homages to “Wind Farm Annie,” and it also re-uses some of the same thematic material.
Unlike “Wind Farm Annie,” this story is not written as a standard narrative. Instead, the narrative is framed as the transcribed text of an audio transmission. To that end, most of the story consists of quoted dialog. (I imagine that the quotation marks and indentation of each paragraph are a practical concession; it would have looked more like a transcription if each line were prefixed by the name of the speaker followed by a colon.) The dialog-only narrative style allows the plot to progress quickly and smoothly, since the story does not really require much spatial coherence. However, this did leave me feeling a little confused about the nature of the original setting. I would have liked to have had a picture of what the environment of the various speakers is like, and their spatial relationship to each other.
The characters themselves are not particularly memorable for any outstanding characteristics, but their human reactions seem realistic and moving while not being too emotionally exaggerated. The theme of the preciousness but frailty of human life, of the consciousness of God in the face death, is portrayed by the characters' emotion responses in the main plot. This same theme is dealt with in more depth in “Wind Farm Annie.” Here, the theme does indeed seem the central objective of the main plot, but the frame story and environment suggest a greater theme, at least to me.
The context of the framing of the story as an audio transcript suggests another angle, another potential interpretation of the ambiguous ending. We don't know exactly what happened, but the ending does not allow the story to be taken as a straightforward survival tragedy like “Wind Farm Annie” is. We know from the meta-framing that someone in the story-world doesn't want knowledge of whatever did happen to get out. It may be easy to miss the suggestion of government conspiracy or persecution, or something along those lines, in the midst of the more immediate survival story. However, these elements give “Free Fall” a unique spin, allowing the reader the pleasure of speculation.