Review: This Quiet Dust by Karl Bunker
It is unusual to find a truly unique idea in science fiction. The problem is that truly alien thinking isn't easy. There are also a lot of other people trying to be original as well. This is most notable when you're literally talking about aliens. One good example of this is an idea an a theory that made the rounds about balloon like aliens living on a gas giant. A new idea that showed up in numerous well written science fiction stories. It was still an original and interesting idea, but no one could it as a unique idea.
I won't say that the aliens in “This Quiet Dust” by Karl Bunker are entirely unique as it may have come up somewhere else, but it's an idea that is new to me. More importantly than simple novelty though is that this is a good story.
The basic idea of “This Quiet Dust” is that humanity has, at some point in the past built a ship that is making its way through the galaxy at a fraction the speed of light while its crew is in suspended animation. Each time passes through a solar system it wakes up the crew who explore any interesting worlds and send the information back to earth. The story begins as a small group of people land on an alien world that has aquatic life and plants but nothing alive on the land, or so it seems.
From here out there is no way to talk without spoilers.
It turns out that there is an intelligence on the surface. Thanks to odd effects of the planet the dust forms into complex nodes which have, at some point began to evolve and have become intelligent. This is also the reason that there are no animals on the surface as this alien intelligence has been suppressing evolution. But it hasn't killed the humans so seems to be curious.
There is a good amount of characterization and a few interesting ideas here and while not all of those ideas are entirely explored they add depth to the universe the story takes place in and I really did enjoy the idea of the evolution of a creature, that is effectively dust in the wind.
This is not the first Karl Bunker story that I have read. This one is a bit longer than the last and while it feels quite different both are well written. You can find this story in the January 2014 issue of Analog science fiction, listen to it in on StarShipSofa number 324 or visit his website at Karlbunker.com.