REVIEW: “A Spark in a Flask” by Emma Johanna Puranen and Patrick Barth

Review of Emma Johanna Puranen and Patrick Barth, “A Spark in a Flask”, in Around Distant Suns, ed. by Emma Johanna Puranen (Guardbridge Books, 2021): 73-84 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

It’s been ages since the last humans left this base on the moon, but SPARC, a Self-sufficient Primordial Atmosphere Robotic Caretaker, knows its duties: to keep the lab, and especially the Flasks, safe and clean and running — and to test the Flasks for signs of life. Computer knows how to adjust the contents of the Flasks as needed, but Computer can’t fix a physical problem if one occurs, only SPARC can. When Computer is no longer able to detect the contents of Flask H40, it’s SPARC’s job to go in and find out what’s wrong — or, in this case: What is wonderfully right.

I found myself responding to SPARC, left behind, sending messages back to an Earth that doesn’t respond, very much the way that people across the world have respond to the Mars rovers, to the satellites sent off to explore asteroids; it’s astonishing how easy it is to anthropomorphise the little machines we send into space. There were moments in this story when I was desperately afraid that SPARC wouldn’t get his happy ending. Because discovering life isn’t enough; one must sustain it too…

A very satisfying read!