Review: The Walk Up Nameless Ridge by Hugh Howey
Out of context George Mallory sounds like an idiot. When asked why you climb a mountain he said, "Because it's there." except that's not what he said, at least not in full. He said it was "a part, I suppose, of man's desire to conquer the universe." a far different statement than the first and the one at the heart of "The Walk up Nameless Ridge" by Hugh Howey.
I will begin with the admission I had never heard of Hugh Howey before I started his anthology. I saw his anthology and picked it up and the first story was on a subject he knew well and cared about and that I could not care less about. I have never seen someone climbing a mountain as an explorer. I have seen them as a daredevil and not even the exciting type that jump over things with motorcycles.
So, I was surprised to be drawn into "The Walk up Nameless Ridge" so entirely, especially since most of it was, as the name implies, someone walking. The story takes place entirely inside the head of one man and one I don't particularly like. He is risking his life to climb a mountain no one has ever climbed before so he can be the first. In doing so he has left behind his family and even abandons his climbing partner halfway up. Except that thanks to excellent writing I, in some small way, understand the desire. He wants to push himself past his limit, to do something impossible and to be remembered for it and he's willing to give up everything for that. I can understand that.
This is a story that is barely science fiction. Aside from the mountain being on another world it's entirely unnecessary for this story to be set in the future. The technology allows him to climb a bigger mountain, to go further, but the height isn't the point and the technology certainly isn't. It's the spirit of someone who keeps going as the technology and the science fails and in that way it stops being genre fiction and becomes what all good fiction is, a story about what it is to be human.
"The Walk Up Nameless Ridge" isn't the best story I've ever read. There is no mind blowing technology or world changing moment. Yet I think the story by Hugh Howey will stick with me because it is a meditation on something of real importance. A story that is more real that much of the adventurous science fiction I read while never feeling like just an average day. A story about being first that doesn't feel the need to prove to the reader just how unique it is. A story that shows an author with real maturity that has likely written other stories I will like even more.