Robert Reed’s 2006 A Billion Eves is an odd story, yet coherent. But given it’s science fiction, that in itself is not so odd. Playing with parallel universes, gender, ecology, and religion, the novella is an interesting conceit not fully unpacked, and if pressed further might crumble. What stands, however, is effective, damning commentary that extends beyond mere story.
A Billion Eves is the story of Kala, a young woman growing up in a world like our own in appearance, but marginally different from a cultural perspective. A device called a ripper has been invented, and with it humans are able to irreversibly travel to a parallel version of Earth, taking with them any amount of items and people, up to and including whole buildings, depending how the device is deployed. After one man rips a sorority of women through time so that he has his own personal harem, young women like Kala live in constant fear of being kidnapped and taken on a ripper trip into the unknown, never to see their loved ones again. Parents and brother progressive, her family reject the ways of the church on their version of Earth and allow Kala to choose who she would marry and work where she pleases. Selecting a job in a national park where she can help reduce the number of invader species brought with the group who initiated Kala’s version of Earth, finds remaining independent a difficult task in the wilds.
A unflattering critique of male-dominated religion (e.g. Mormonism), part of Reed’s agenda in A Billion Eves is to challenge beliefs which request/require women to act more as breeding grounds than autonomous members of society. Kala’s father pressured by the local church to marry his daughter, and Kala constantly under threat of being kidnapped by any loose cannon with a ripper, polygamy and the male power myth fall into Reed’s crosshairs, his shot dead on.
But it’s the idea of parallel universes which propels the plot. Iterations on top of iterations on top of iterations, Kala and her society are only one of many which have evolved over time. Rippers a technology nobody can avoid, the continual shift away from original Earth brings many changes and possibilities, not all of which are positive when in the wrong hands.
In the end A Billion Eves is a unique look at polygamy, the male power myth, and the increasing state of flux in Western society, particularly with regard to technological and social changes. Reed creates at least a two-dimensional character in Kala and presents his idea of parallel Earths in a fashion that does not undermine itself with cheesiness, but does indeed support the themes at hand, namely religion and ecology. The novella may not go down in the history of the genre (Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale is a better developed story regarding the intersection of childbirth and religion), but it is an interesting read with a purpose.