Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Quarantine 1 - Greg Egan

"was eight years old when the stars went out.

November 15th, 2034, 8:11:05 to 8:27:42 GMT.

I didn't witness the circle of darkness, growing from the antisolar point like the mouth of a coal-black cosmic worm, gaping to swallow the world. On TV, yes, a hundred times, from a dozen locations — but on TV it looked like nothing but the cheapest of special effects (the satellite views all the more so; in glare-filtered shots, the “mouth” could be seen closing precisely behind the sun, an implausible symmetry, smacking of human contrivance).

I couldn't have seen it live, it was late afternoon in Perth — but the news reached us before sunset, and I stood on the balcony with my parents, in the dusk, waiting. When Venus appeared, and I pointed it out, my father lost his temper and sent me inside. I don't recall exactly what I said; I'm sure I knew the difference between stars and planets, but perhaps I made some childish joke. When I looked through my bedroom window — with a choice of smeared glass or dusty flyscreen — and saw, well, nothing, it was hard to be impressed. Later, when I finally caught an unimpeded view of the empty sky, I dutifully tried to feel awestruck, but failed. The sight was as unspectacular as an overcast night. It was only years later that I understood how terrified my parents must have been.

There were riots on Bubble Day across the planet, but the worst of the violence took place where people had seen the event with their own eyes — and that depended on a combination of longitude and weather. Night stretched from the western Pacific to Brazil, but cloud covered much of the Americas. There were clear skies over Peru, Colombia, Mexico and southern California — so Lima, Bogota, Mexico City and Los Angeles suffered accordingly. In New York, at eleven past three in the morning, it was bitterly cold and overcast — and the city was all but spared. Brasilia and Sao Paulo were saved by the light of dawn.

Disturbances in this country were minor; even on the east coast, sunset came too late, and apparently most Australians sat glued to their TVs all night, watching other people do the looting and burning. The End of the World was far too important to be happening anywhere but overseas. There were fewer deaths in Sydney than on the previous New Year's Eve."

4.5 out of 5

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