The Necessity of Stars
by E. Catherine Tobler
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted July 23, 2021
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I think this is the first of Tobler's stories I've read, but it won't be the last. A lyrical, poignant examination of memory, loss, and expectations. Bréone Hemmerli is a 63-year-old woman who lives alone in the Irislands, near Rouen, France, perhaps within what is currently the Seine Regional Natural Park. It's 2148, and the world is in chaos due to climate change. The Irislands, and a few other isolated regions, are thriving, barely, but most of the world is engulfed in droughts, fires, floods, and famine, as well as riots and terrorist actions. Bréone is an assistant to the Secretary General of the United Nations, although her duties have been greatly curtailed. The UN had been unable to enforce any rules, hadn't even been able to formulate rules that enough member nations could agree on.
Bréone fears she is heading toward dementia. She frequently cannot think of words for things and concepts she is sure she should know. She also loses track of time, even though she tries to regulate her life with repetitive actions. She goes to bed at the same time every night, awakes to the alarm at the same time. She works in her garden every morning, and usually visits her friend Delphine every day. She checks the news and her UN reports, although the reports are fewer as the days go buy, and the news from many places is either too depressing, or is being censored. One news item from the Kingdom strikes a bell. That's the former United Kingdom, since an incident in London's Hyde Park is mentioned. It reminds her of something she has experienced herself, although she wasn't sure it had actually happened, or if it had been a dream or hallucination. It might even be a memory of something that hasn't happened yet.
One evening Bréone encounters something, someone, in her garden, near the lily pond. At first it seems to only be a shadow, but where a shadow should not be at that time of night. Then the shadow moves away from a tree, becomes more substantial. She identifies herself, and the being responds in English, then she tests to see if it knows French. It does, but not any other language that she knows herself. There are several scenes repeated throughout the story, with slight variations. Are they her remembrances of one instance, something she keeps forgetting, or are they repeated numerous times? How many times had she encountered Tura, as she comes to know the alien, before she could remember? If it did actually happen, how could she possibly explain it to anyone without being declared mad? Even when she realizes Delphine believes her, at least she thinks she does, she still worries about telling her boss, since he wants her to negotiate the London situation.
When Bréone came to the Irislands twenty-eight hears before, she had a husband and two children. Now her husband has left her, she knows her daughter is a school teacher, but she hasn't had contact with her for a long time, and she has no idea where her son is, or even if he is still alive. All she has now is her house, her garden, and the love and friendship of Delphine. Is that not enough? Is she so lonely she imagines an alien in her garden? Or is Tura the reason the Irislands are so lush and verdant? Can she shield Tura from the dangers of the world? Can Tura save her from her diminishing capacity? The first line in the story is, "When I don't remember my name, I will remember this." Regardless of what else she might forget, Bréone is convinced she will remember Tura. For me, it is this story. I will remember this.
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