If you watch many science fiction movies or TV shows, you could be forgiven for believing that people believe that alien worlds are large deserts with animals and people that look mostly like mildly altered versions what we have on Earth. Those are more limitations of the budget than imagination. Even in the more modern age when computer graphics have lowered the cost of effects it's still much easier to attach fake ears to a person than it is to make them in a computer. But written science fiction doesn’t have budgetary limitations. And Bright Moment by Daniel Marcus takes advantage of that by creating a world that is both far more alien than those we often see and also more realistic.
Set when humans have advanced enough technology to survive in environments that are absurdly hostile to us the story follows Arun, a risk taker who works on a planet with oceans of Ammonia and other things that would be gaseous in a world as hot as ours. Arun is in the ocean for what I can only describe as a stupid stunt as he tries to surf a mile high wave of Ammonia when he sees something alive in the ocean just before he crashes into the shore and nearly kills himself.
Since the humans are terraforming the planet, this is a problem. One that is made worse by Arum’s personal life which has its own problems.
The alien nature of the world is interesting and important to the story, but being thrown into the strangeness of this world makes you work through the first few paragraphs of the story slowly. It isn’t bad by any stretch but it’s dense. This makes the story something I wouldn’t recommend for someone who hasn’t read a lot of science fiction or at least is comfortable with the science.
Bright Moment by Daniel Marcus is a well-written and smart story with interesting characters and a satisfying conclusion. But it isn’t for everyone. Something I wish I could say about more stories I read, because while I will never complain about something easy to read there is room for stories that are more challenging because it assumes you can keep up without the explanations of the science fiction concepts and sociological changes it uses.
You can read Bright Moment in the September 2011 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine or listen to it on escape pod or you can find him and his other work at https://cherrylogroad.danielmarcus.com/