The Klevish are an alien civilization who despite their advanced technological status, appear to lead a rather mystic lifestyle. They agree to share some of their knowledge with Earth, provided a human representative can overcome one of their challenges. This time they’ve chosen Erika, a biologist, as Earth’s negotiator for a genetic reclamation technology. The puzzle she must solve is simple: why does a particular species of a tall grass bend as the Klevish pass by it?
This is an excellent example of concise storytelling, covering a lot of ground in only a few paragraphs. There’s a simple, yet powerful poignancy about the world and characters that Wasserstein unfolds throughout her non-linear narrative, adding to a pleasant feeling of melancholy. Erika’s struggle, despite its science fictional backbone, is immensely relatable to anyone who’s had to choose between more than one path in their lives. The sadness that such a choice entails comes through clearly in the story.
Unfortunately, the ending does not quite hold up to the excellent build up, as the Erika’s solution to the Klevish puzzle seems like a hand-wavy attempt to bring the story to a hasty close. It works, but I can’t help but think that cleverer solution exists somewhere out there, one that does try to force the metaphor quite so much.