Review: Wine, Women and Stars by Thoraiya Dyer

Most of us are all too aware of the cost of failure, but many of us don’t stop to consider the cost of success. Not the many hours of effort that go into succeeding, but the cost of having succeeded. We’re just not taught to think that way. We have a goal; we achieve it; we celebrate and move forward. And most of the time that is good. Spending our lives considering everything we lost because of a job we got, or far worse, because we had children, would make anyone bitter. But sometimes there are worse things than not getting what you want.

In the story “Wine, Women and Stars,” by Thoraiya Dyer we have a story of someone who is driven to succeed. A doctor who is competing to become the doctor for a one-way trip to mars. As you might expect the testing is extensive and difficult. What takes you by surprise in this story is discovering that humans have found a way to remove most of a person’s internal organs and replace them with a system for using hydrogen as a fuel. As you might guess this isn’t an easy procedure and has some drawbacks, like the inability to eat or have children after it is done.

Most of this story is told in flashback as Dr. Felicia Pelle performs surgery on someone else. She thinks about the effort that she put into trying to get the job and the frustration of being second best. And there is some small amount of tension since the surgery she performs is one on of the people she is in competition with, but truthfully there isn’t much in that since at no point did it seem like she might take this moment to gain any advantage, even when she points out that a small, nonlethal mistake might eliminate her from competition.

I am not qualified to judge the accuracy of the medical science in this story. The idea you could replace that much of a persons internal organs seems a stretch, but the descriptions of the human body and the surgery are more than accurate enough for my knowledge and interesting to read about though from time to time it was too technical for me to easily follow.

This is primarily a story about a person more than about anything else, and you get a feeling for the person Dr. Felicia Pelle is in the story and beginning to really feel for her by the end. And we often miss having character-centered story in science fiction stories where technology and ideas can take over. That said, I question the ethics of a surgeon performing surgery not only on someone she knows, but on someone she is in direct competition with and I fear that the doctor may be looking at an ethics investigation in her future, even though it was done to allow a college to get to the birth of his child.

You can read Wine, Women and Stars by Thoraiya Dyer in the January 2014 issue of Analog science fiction, or visit her website at