I have a soft spot in my heart for stories set in futures where humanity has no choice but to try previous technologies or skills to adapt. Katharine Duckett’s “The Stars Above” in Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction plays right into this from the start, as we join a caravan of people using adapted yurts to make their way to potential safety. They’re fleeing an alien invasion, and it’s obvious the aliens have won our world, but don’t seem to care much for humanity if humanity stays out of its way and lets them have what they want—which basically involves all the resources of the cities on the planet.
Duckett grounds the story in Jack, a Peace Corps volunteer who was working in Kazakhstan when stories of the alien invasion first start to spread. The invasion itself is revealed in flashbacks, and I have to give Duckett some props for the method by which the aliens catch humanity off guard, as it’s so topical and wonderful (and dreadful and on-point) a use of science fiction to point a giant finger at our culture that it had me grinning. Jack is far from his family, has a genetic disorder that leaves him with chronic pain and inflammation and mobility issues (somewhat alleviated with medication, but in the post-invasion world, that’s going to be a rare resource).
The conflict of “The Stars Above” isn’t about the alien invasion, though. It’s about two pulling desires in Jack: his desire to try to make it back to his family, and his attraction to Alibek, a local. Given where they are, if Alibek ever felt the same way, it wasn’t something he could say, but now that aliens have changed everything, that’s perhaps no longer true. Survival is one thing. Choosing between the two things, though, leaves Jack in a no-win situation, and the deft handling of making that decision is where “The Stars Above” really works its magic.