Every first and third Friday of the month there will be two story excerpts from the Shine anthology. This is the fourteenth one: “Castoff World” by Kay Kenyon:
Child knelt at the edge of the ocean and carefully spread the bird bones on the water, putting them out to sea. She waited for them to burst into feathers and rise from the ocean, flapping in circles, corkscrewing into the wind.
Not this time, though.
Child always hoped to see the leftover bones from meals reform in their proper shapes: seagull, turtle, swordfish. When she was little, she used to think Grappa was saying they had to put meal leftovers out to sleep, not out to sea. So even though she knew better now—being almost seven—she still thought of the bones as sleeping. And it was their little fun thing that they said, her and Grappa: out to sleep.
She checked the fishing lines on this side of the island for any catches—none—and scanned the horizon for pirates. The blue-green sea stretched in gentle swells to the edge of the world. No pirates today. If you saw pirates you had to crawl to the trap door to meet Grappa who would have a rat for protection. They’d practiced many times, always quiet and serious, but Child would have liked a glimpse of pirates. The book had a picture of one, but Grappa said, no, that was like in the movies, and not a real pirate. Movies was a before word. The book didn’t have a picture of movies. But it had other before things, like fire hydrant, bicycle, and nano assembler.
“You dropped a bone, Child.”
Grappa stood, his beard fluttering in the wind, and pointed to the tiny bone.
“Can I watch Nora kick it off?”
He nodded, and they crouched beside the bone, watching as the nanobots slowly moved the fragment toward the water’s edge. You couldn’t see the nanobots because of being too small, but they were there, working hard, passing the bone to the nanobots next to them. It would take all afternoon for Nora to put the bone out to sleep. Child would come back later to check on the progress.
“Nora doesn’t like our garbage,” Child pronounced.
“Not her kind.” Grappa stood and looked out over their floating home. It was made entirely from garbage, an island of toxic trash, collected over years of swirling round the ocean gyre. The more garbage collected, the bigger Nora got. Here and there you could see plastic bottles, sty-ro-foam cups, white and yellow bags, and crunched up cans. Over there, a collection of tiny stirrers and straws, lined up like a miniature forest. (Forest: many trees clumped together. Tree: tall growing thingy.) Nora was going to break all these things down and make them into good stuff so that bad stuff wouldn’t leak into the water.
Grappa said Nora wasn’t alive. But they called her her, because he said you could call ships her, and what they were on was like a ship or maybe a raft.
Kay Kenyon’s latest work, published by Pyr, is a sci-fantasy quartet beginning with Bright of the Sky, a story that introduced readers to the Entire, a tunnel universe next door. Publishers Weekly listed this novel among the top 150 books of 2007. The series has twice been shortlisted for the American Library Association Reading List awards. The final volume, Prince of Storms will appear in January 2010. Her work has been nominated for major awards in the field and translated into French, Russian, Spanish, Czech and audio versions. Recent short stories appeared in Fast Forward 2 and The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two. She lives in eastern Washington state with her husband. She is the chair of a writing conference, Write on the River, and is currently working on a fantasy novel. All of her work has happy endings, except for those with characters who, alas, must die.
Kay Kenyon’s fantastic Castoff World chronicles the life of Child, a young girl whose entire existence has been spent on a garbage island adrift in the ocean. Her only companionship is a sickly grandfather and something she calls Nora — a Nanobotic Oceanic Refuse Accumulator that has continued its mission of collecting pollutants from the water, breaking them down, and transforming them into “good stuff.”
Likewise the events of the touching Castoff World by Kay Kenyon are restricted to a tiny stage — a makeshift Pacific raft — that nonetheless serves as an effective microcosm of broader ecological concerns.
Kay Kenyon’s wonderful story Castoff World of a young girl’s life aboard a floating reclamation centre;
Castoff World by Kay Kenyon has an amazing dreamlike feel to it. It’s about a girl, her Grappa (older grandfather figure) and a boat called Nora drifting on the ocean. It’s about truth and having to fend for yourself. It’s a bit Big Blue in its feel and the ending made me well up and sigh that Child will now no longer be alone. Beautiful.
The last story I want to mention is Kay Kenyon’s Castoff World. The story is about Child and her Grappa floating around on a barge originally intended to clean up the Ocean of pollutants like plastics. The barge has long since lost contact with the people who designed and ran it and it is now floating freely on a dangerous ocean, collecting ever more rubbish. We see the story from Child’s perspective. It’s a very touching story, I particularly liked the subtle presence of artificial intelligence. Beautifully written. This one is probably my favourite in the entire collection.
A story about the “friendship” between the orphan Child and Nora, a “Nanobotic Oceanic Refuse Accumulator” aka “an ocean garbage eating artificial island” which is Child’s only known home. While a bit too short, this story hearkens back to the traditional lost in the world adventure and it’s wonderful.
An interactive Google Map of story locations from the SHINE anthology: