David Moles’ 2007 novelette “Finisterra” is the story of Bianca Nazario, a young woman recently arrived on the planet Sky from Earth. Hired as an aeronautical engineer, her unwillingness to follow her family’s wishes and marry according to arrangment has pushed her to find work on the distant gas giant. Employed by a group of poachers, her first few days are spent helping Valadez and his team capture and kill massive floating zaratanes—sentient creatures so big that communities of the poor and independent are able to eek out a living on their beings, and likewise so big their bodies can be chopped up and sold as commodities. Her engineering skills intended to help design better air vehicles to aid in capture, Nazario finds herself in a moral delimma when Valadez asks her to the scene of an accident one day. The politics of Sky unraveling in the aftermath, Nazario’s aeronautical knowledge may be the most useful talent she has as violence erupts.
“Finisterra” is a story that so desperately wants to be more than it is. Featuring an equivocal ending, strong environmental and cultural themes, and elements that seem to speak to a strong socio-politcal agenda, its reality, however, is superficial. Unable to escape the simplicity of its good and evil characterization, the strength of the novelette’s message fades with every contrived scene. Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest possessing a similar premise (evil commercial interests invade the placid order of a benign alien group), her characters, however, are the center point upon which the ensuing agenda hangs. Moles’ story lacks a similar focus. This is not to say “Finisterra” should have an unambiguous ending or tone down the main thematic elements, rather that the characters should have been more subtle, more realistic, and more fundamental if it were to have fulfilled its ambition. I will not say Le Guin’s characters are presented in purely realist terms, but there is a marked difference to the manner in which their plausibility affects the integrity of the story compared to Moles’.
In the end, “Finisterra” is a simple, fun adventure set on a nicely described world that was aiming for more. Social, political, and environmental cards on the table, they fail to produce a winning hand for Moles in terms of thematic holism, though the storytelling is nice. The main fault is the simplicity of character. Good and evil their modes of operation, they do not represent or interact effectively with the complex notions of animal rights, Christian vs. Muslim belief, corruption in government, class rights, cultural differences, etc. Ideologically overweight, “Finisterra” could do with a significant reworking into novel length. This would allow for greater character depth, better integration of worldbuilding and theme into plot, and ultimately, a more cohesive story. As it stands, I was reminded of Geoffrey Landis’ novella "The Sultan of the Clouds"—a novella with full story but empty meaning.
A side note: I did not, in fact “read” Moles’ novelette; I listened to Kate Baker’s rendition at Clarkesworld (here). I hate to continue the negativity in this review, but it was, unfortunate to say, a poor narration. The accents were applied inauthentically and inconsistently. Valadez, for example, who is described as someone of Spanish language decent, is indeed given a non-standard English voice but in an accent that is anything but Spanish-tinted English. Moreover, not every time Valadez speaks does Baker apply the accent, leading to some small confusion. At a more basic level, there are sometimes no pauses where commas exist, and vice versa. Another way of putting this is, instead of trying to find the author’s voice, Baker uses her own. But worse yet, Baker often dictates with a breathlessness of forced emotion. Many of the scenes are reduced to a whispering, scratchy-throated drama that doesn’t seem to fit the mood of planetary adventure—again, imposing her own voice rather than trying to find one which suits the story. I believe Baker wants to be a recognized narrator (see the catch phrase “Let me tell you a story” at the outset), but she didn’t display the talent to look below the surface and find what makes a story tick from an auditory perspective, nor the awareness to put aside her own voice and try and find the author’s. There are numerous other voice actors and professional readers at Audible that put the e-zine’s podcast to shame. Perhaps Clarkesworld is willing to branch out and use a variety of readers?