Monday, October 24, 2011

Fiona Lehn's The Last Letter

Aqueduct Press is pleased to announce the release of The Last Letter, a novella by Fiona Lehn, the latest volume in our Conversation Pieces series.  It's a fascinating tale. On Island SG7, one voracious parasite endangers a protected forest and a small community. But the biologist hired to bring the place into balance is already compromised—by a too-narrow view of her duties, and—increasingly—by a love she cannot ignore.

This is the love letter of Peta Sutton, who struggles to perceive the full complexities of her place in a foreign ecosystem and an extramarital relationship. As the island roils and the parasites seem to drag people's worst fears into being, Peta struggles to forge a peace at the heart of fears that threaten to consume everything.

Here's a taste:

Nearly 25 years ago, in the northwestern region of the New World, on Island SG7, in the month of May, I spoke with you for the first time. I had called a general meeting. Such meetings usually drew 200 people or less and so were held in the pub, where they comfortably adopted the tone of a family squabble. My meeting, however, took place in the school gymnasium at the northern tip of the island, to accommodate the nearly 2500 island inhabitants who attended. They sat in the bleachers that lined the sides of the room. You stood alone against the far wall by the exit and said nothing, watching the proceedings as if observation were your business. In the middle of the gym floor, I clung to the sides of the podium with sweaty palms, trying to emanate an authoritative calm.

“Thank you all for coming,” I said. “This community obviously cares about its forest system.”

“You're damned right we do!” A man's voice shot out from the crowd and echoed about the gym, followed by righteous voices of agreement.

“I've spent the past week in the forest, as you know,” I said, “and I want to share with you what I've learned.”

“We already know—the worms are taking over the entire island!”
More shouts of assent.

“If you would please refrain from commenting until I've finished,” I said, “We'll have time for everyone to share their views.” The crowd quietened. “The web worms and their webs are unsightly,” I said, “but they have done and will do no permanent damage to the forest. This Spring, the web worms will continue to develop through six phases, called instars—during which they will grow and molt, or, shed their skins—until late June when they coccoon. I will destroy any cocoons near ground level and trap moths in early July. In the months that follow, I will destroy all accessible egg masses. This process will significantly reduce the web worm population and give the forest a chance to renew itself. That is the first step to restoring balance to the island's forest system. As well, I will develop a long-term eco-balancing strategy. Until the forest regains balance, it may look strange to you, but I need you to be patient and let me do my job.”

The islanders, a mix of superstitious island-borns and educated, retired imports from the mainland cities, were accustomed to autonomy and immediacy. They wanted predators shipped in, they wanted bug bombs and pesticides. I reminded them that their overuse of pesticides over the past decade was one of the things that had gotten them into this mess in the first place, killing off beneficial insects and losing their web worm predators in the process.

“Then spray the worms,” someone shouted. “If the other organisms or creatures are gone, then we have nothing to lose anymore. Spray everything!”

“Spray them with what?” I said. “After completing my preliminary tests, I can tell you that the web worms have developed a resistance to insecticides, viruses, and funghi. Even the parasites they host have no significant effect upon them. You have bred some very resilient web worms here. So we must control them another way. But this will take more than a season, so again I ask for your patience—”
“We've waited long enough already. Those worms have devoured half the forest.”

“What will they eat when they run out of trees?”


“Our homes?”

Fiona Lehn is a new voice in feminist science fiction, and it's my pleasure to do what I can to make her better known in our field. Her only publication to date is a novella in The Writers of the Future series. Fiona grew up in Stockton California and took a BA in Creative Writing at UC Santa Cruz but now lives as a Canadian citizen in Vancouver, British Columbia. Besides writing fiction, Fiona is also a musician. From 1993 to 2006, she co-produced several CDs of her original songs and performed across the U.S. Of particular interest for this blog's habituees is that from 2007 to 2011, she served on the editorial collective of Room, Canada's oldest feminist literary magazine.

You can purchase The Last Letter here.

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