Flash review: Victory Citrus is Sweet by Thoraiya Dyer

This short story (missing the novelette category by a mere 15 words) has an interesting premise, a quirky central character and a hint of a redemption arc. It is a fun, quick read. However, if one thinks about it a little longer, the narrator grows increasingly unlikeable, and the moral story comes out very wrong. I like to point your attention to this story precisely for this reason. It reads like a condensed version of Andy Weir’s Artemis, but the story obfuscates the narrator’s character long enough to finish reading without feeling disgust with the protagonist.

Victory Citrus is a spaceship pilot, sent to investigate some technical issues on a mining operation on Mercury. Down on her luck, with a chip on her shoulder and a missing arm due to cancer, she tends to cut things too close, and this expedition is no exception. She arrives at Mercury with barely enough resources for a quick trip down to the surface, or fuel to get comfortably back. She is told to hold orbit and wait for her old mentor, who is also on his way to the planet.

She pressures her apprentice, who happens to be the mentor’s daughter, to disobey the order. They find out that the mining operation has disrupted the habitat of an intelligent species under the surface of Mercury. They set down to the surface and try to communicate with the aliens. Once again, they cut things too thin, and barely manage to park their spaceship in a protected spot on Mercury and get into cryo sleep, waiting to be rescued by Victory’s mentor.

What makes the prose so easy flowing is the technology introduced in this story. Humans in spaceships tend to get cancer quite often, but they can regrow limbs and organs in 3D printers and replace them just as easily. They can also broadcast their thoughts to others. The former allows for mistakes to be made, and so it’s quite natural that the protagonist is careless, and she feels almost no remorse when her actions damage her apprentice. The latter provides for a little bit of comic relief. The aliens are not well developed, but they present a rather interesting spin on extraterrestrial life, given that it’s found on Solar system’s least hospitable planet. All this combines into a fast-paced adventure.

Once you finish and sit down to think about this story, however, you realize how unlikeable Victory actually is. She is selfish, willing to lie, cheat and disobey orders while she chases her ultimate goal, the respect of others. She is perfectly willing to place herself and others in danger. And yet, people are willing to forgive and help her. In all this, Victory appears very much like Jazz in Andy Weir’s Artemis. The key difference is that Artemis was so detestable that it spoiled the entire book. Dyer, on the other hand, manages to keep the action fast (the short format is certainly helping), and so the reader doesn’t fully recognize Victory’s character until the author herself points it out in the very last part, where Victory reunites with her mentor. Whether it’s intentional or not, this kind of revelation is rarely if ever found in short stories, which makes this one so interesting to dissect. To bad that it’s then spoiled by the mentor’s indulgence, rather than the appropriate consequences for Victory.

The full story can be found here.

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