“Deep Sea Fish,” by Chi Hui (translated by Brian Bies) is a novelet from the March/April 2018 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. At its core, it’s a story about what it means to be human, and what it means to reach for the stars.
Many of us SFF nerds grew up familiar with “The Martian Chronicles;” stories about the inhabitants of other planets interacting with, or being discovered long dead by, humans are a staple of SFF. “Deep Sea Fish” features a galaxy spanning civilization (not carbon based!) that has flourished on other planets and then vanished. Human archeologists studying ancient alien artifacts and remains are absolutely a strongly present theme in this genre, and in “Deep Sea Fish” there’s a group that’s moving quickly to study an area of interest on Titan before a company comes in to terraform the area, and melt it all… as opposed to coming in to build a new high way or condo and bulldozing it all..
The science in this novelet is a little bit shaky, one of the things where you just have to nod and enjoy the substance of the story and the themes it contains. What makes humans different from the aliens who once populated other planets, moons? Why have humans been so slow to explore the stars, as compared to the aliens who we have yet to meet? How has our slowness- and our birth and growth on earth– affected us and our ability to explore, our attitudes toward exploring? Humans aren’t shallow water fish, able to skip from pool to pool and spread our numbers further. We are deep sea fish, only able to travel to new places when we take our environment with us… and taking our environment with us can destroy the places we settle.
As hard science this is, perhaps, a failure. But as a good story it’s a lot of thoughtful fun.