Oh wow, this was so good, folks. A story I found through LeVar Burton Reads (you should also check that out, by the way), Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky” has so many balls up in the air for one story it’s incredible, and she doesn’t drop a single one.
This is a cli-fi short in setting—things have gone about as badly as they possibly could in the world, with oceans rising and flooding having hit most of the continents. North America is a mess, the UK is, too, and Europe is described as a bunch of seas. The continents with less flooding are Australia and Africa, and the end result was a wave of refugees, aslyum seekers, and—of course—violence as those who have not try to take from those who have. This is in the (recent) past of the story, and provides a stirring (and disturbing) backdrop from which we view the tale.
The main character is a woman capable of taking the pain of others. This isn’t magic, per sé, but rather a new form of ability uncovered by an understanding of a mathematical formula that has been discovered that more or less explains, well, everything. In many ways, this formula arose and took the place of faith in general—after all, if it’s possible to understand everything in the universe, what need is there for faith?—and as a result mathematicians like the main character make their (very privileged) living sort of “editing” those who can afford the process.
The main character, Nneoma, isn’t a particularly likeable character. Her ex, Kioni, has the same gifts she does, but often volunteers amongst refugees to help those in the worst pain of grief without real recompense, which puts Nneoma’s lack-of-selflessness into a rather harsh light. (Also, hey, random queer rep, huzzah!) But as the story progresses and we learn of the griefs Nneoma hasn’t removed, and then see her face-to-face with a truly awful loss she’s not supposed to help, things become clearer.
And then the ending, where everything twists on the last few lines. Wow. So good. What a phenomenal story. This is the title story of a collection, too, which I need to track down.