Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Blooded on Arachne" by Michael Bishop

Way back in the 1980s, when I was in my teens, I read Michael Bishop’s novel No Enemy But Time, which is about a guy who goes back in time and has sex with a pre-human hominid.  I have forgotten many of the things I have read over the course of my life, but parts of No Enemy But Time remained vivid in my mind for decades, long after the title of the book and its author's name had faded away.  Recently a little internet research revealed the source of these outre memories, and I’ve been thinking I should read No Enemy But Time again, but it doesn’t seem to be at any of the libraries around here.

Anyway, Michael Bishop is represented in the ambitious anthology Epoch with the story “Blooded on Arachne.”  I have to admit that, based on the title and my limited experience with Bishop's work, I thought maybe this was a story about a guy having sex with a giant spider.  Instead, it is about the rite of passage/final exam that sixteen year old trainee space pilots must endure on a planet inhabited by giant spiders.  This planet, Arachne, is very windy, and once a year a swarm of baby giant spiders (each the size of a pony or horse, I guess) stands on a cliff, where each shoots a web canopy into the air which acts like a balloon or kite, so all the spiderlings are then carried aloft.  This vast cloud of spiders flies for some days; many of the spiders die or get lost during the flight.  The challenge which the space pilot candidate must overcome is to hitch a ride with the flying spiderlings, an arduous ordeal.

This is a decent adventure story, and Bishop adds some emotional heft to the proceedings, effectively conveying the changing feelings of the teenage pilot candidate as he endures the difficult test.  There is also an allusion to Alexander of Macedon which all you classical scholars will enjoy.  An above average story, then, which I feel comfortable recommending.  I will definitely keep an eye open for other Michael Bishop stories.

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