Short Fiction Review: (R+D) / I = M by Catherine Tobler

cw_80_700Title: (R+D) / I = M

Author: Catherine Tobler

Publisher: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 80

Date: May 2013


Humans finally have arrived on Mars. Manless expeditions have proven that life no longer exists on the red planet. Fossils show signs of ancient life, but without water, life is unsustainable. Or so we thought.

Tobler’s story looks at these fleshy bipeds known as humans from the perspective of a Martian. The Martian anatomy remains somewhat nebulous — likened to a grape vine in its slender structure and finding sustenance through sunlight instead of water. One particular Martian couple comes upon the vineyard that the humans have started to grow just outside their biosphere. The fruit, unlike most human food, is edible to the Martians and in eating it, they begin to take an interest in the humans.

The male Martian (at least the one who isn’t pregnant) is able to enter the consciousness of a female human and visits her body and all of its organs with an intimacy that is told with a sense of beauty and curiosity rather than horror. This curiosity leads to capture, which at first seems innocuous until they are deprived of the sunlight they need to live.

(R+D) / I = M is more of a pondering on biological life than it is a story that tries to resolve the conflict between the two species. Great detail is spent in understanding the biological structure of humans — as different and strange they seem — and how the organs allow them to live, breathe, and reproduce. I enjoyed the writing and the premise of the story, diverging from the pitfall that most first contact stories fall into. This is not a story of evil humans and how one human gets the other species and tries to restore their relationship. Not all conflicts have a resolution. We agree to disagree or as Tobler writes, “They trespass. We trespass.”

But I must admit, I am stumped by the title. It seems as abstract as the ghosts of Mars, which I suppose is fitting. I never quite understood if the Martians were literally inside the human female or just mentally transplanted. Maybe these creatures are not meant to be fully understood. After all, it took the Martians carefully arranging grapes on a doorstep to get their attention. I wonder what it would take for me to see and understand them.

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1 Comment

  1. Sometimes riddles are right in front of you. Not sure how I missed it.

    “Risk plus distance divided by isolation equates madness.”


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