“Angel of the Blockade” is a novelette by Alex Wells, published on Tor in September of 2017.
The thing you need to know about Alex Wells is that they’re a huge freaking nerd. And when you have a nerd who’s immersed in nerd culture in deep, pervasive ways they can either be really entitled creeps, or they can create magic. Wells absolutely creates magic.
“Angel of the Blockade” picks up a lot of really classic science fiction tropes– a hard bitten cynic with a heart of gold smuggler who also has an actual history and character beyond that; a pilot who interacts with the world in ways most people can’t (tasting solar winds, for example); pilgrim refugees persecuted because of religion and driven to find a new planet home; the idea of home in general. Wells takes this, and they turn it into something that feels new and unique, something personal.
Nata, the protagonist, was raised and nurtured by her aunt after the tragic death of her parents… and their death IS tragic and is more than just emotional manipulation, and profoundly shaped who she is and how she does what she does and why. A freighter pilot and smuggler, she accepts a commission to smuggle some large boxes. Once they’re aboard the ship and she’s flown away from the docks, though, things start to go awry… Her cargo is human and they have a specific and dangerous agenda that, if foiled, will result in their deaths.
Wells does a fantastic job of humanizing all of the characters, including the ones that possibly aren’t human.
Interestingly, Nata is Blind and has been since birth. While she has a lot of Very Concerned People asking questions about her vision and offering her sympathy, Nata is extremely comfortable in her own skin. She has some great integrated technology that helps her navigate the world, but doesn’t imitate vision. Her world, her technology, accommodate her and help her interact with the world, make the world accessible… without making her Just Like A Sighted Person.
Wells is a very good author and I’m looking forward to reading their book ‘Hunger Makes the Wolf,’ which I’d been planning on picking up for a while. I’m glad Tor was able to give them a platform to share their work.