If humans go into space and meet aliens, there are a couple likely scenarios. One is that they are thousands or millions of years more advanced than us, the other is that they are far less advanced than us which is why it’s odd to me that so many science fiction stories assume the least likely possibility which is that they will be anywhere near the same level of technology as us. In the case “Art for Splendor’s Sake” by has aliens that have considerably less technology than the humans, but unlike most stories where that is true they are treated like they are as smart as the humans.
The basic premise of the story is that Chanda Kasmira is the ambassador to an alien world that hosts three intelligent species that will be killed in eighty years because of a stellar event. The humans are moving the two that live on land to separate worlds because they live in different climates. But the two species have a symbiotic relationship which is causing trouble. And on top of all of that Chanda has to deal with a human artist who is on the world to make a work of art.
This story has a lot of good world building, with two well-developed alien species which fit into their world well and it makes sense that they are interconnected. There is also a good reason for the humans to be interacting with the far less advanced aliens, while also developing their culture well enough.
While I enjoyed this story, I couldn’t help but feeling like there may have been other times in the history of this world that would be more interesting, like the first contact or with more of a ticking clock by setting it closer to the explosion that will kill them all. That said, this not being as much of a life and death situation allows for the tone of the story to be lighter that at either of those points.
“Art for Splendor’s Sake” by Dave Creek is a story I enjoyed and one that is difficult to explain largely because of the importance of the tone and humor of this story. So if you’re looking for good world building and humor this is an enjoyable story.
You can read it in the December 2011 Analog science fiction magazine and if you want to see other stories that take place in the same universe you can go to davecreek.com