“The Cull”, by Robert Reed (2010) K

Date read: 9.8.10
Read from: Clarkesworld Magazine
Reviewer: Kakaner

Every station must have its doctor.

The first doctor was a collection of wetware and delicate machinery designed to serve deep-space astronauts. He was built because human doctors were too expensive, doing little most of the time while demanding space and oxygen and food. The modern doctor was essential because three Martian missions had failed, proving that no amount of training and pills could keep the best astronaut sane, much less happy. My ancestor knew all of tricks expected of an honorable physician: He could sew up a knife wound, prescribe an antipsychotic, and pluck the radiation-induced cancer out of pilot’s brain. But his most vital skill came from smart fingers implanted in every heroic brain—little slivers armed with sensors and electricity. A doctor can synthesize medicines, but more important is the cultivation of happiness and positive attitudes essential to every astronaut’s day.

I am the same machine, tweaked and improved a thousand ways but deeply tied to the men and women who first walked on Mars.

This is the narrator, half-human half-robot. More of which? We never really know. “The Cull” blends a slice-of-life snapshot aboard a space station with a dark insight into the methodology and sustenance of this future humanity incubated from, but at the same time reeling towards destruction. Reed paints the combination of human emotions and bleak reality in firm, knowing strokes yet never steps out of his narrator’s character. I wouldn’t necessarily say there are many hidden levels to this story, but I love that there’s at least one that examines the human psyche in a desperate society as well as a machine’s inability to refuse its programming. I’d go as far as to say this is one of my favorite sci-fi short stories I’ve read in a while, largely because its simple and elegant deliverance leaves enough room for the tragic beauty of the world’s circumstance to shine through.

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Robert Reed
Read “The Cull” at Clarkesworld Magazine

5 thoughts on ““The Cull”, by Robert Reed (2010) K”

    1. Isn’t this story not set on a space station but a station in the Arctic? It makes multiple mentions of mountains and rivers and rainy seasons and no mention of them putting on any types of suits once going outside of the station?

  1. I was also really impressed by this one, which was great since the last few months I haven’t been particularly wowed by the Clarkesworld stories. But this–man, I love shifty characters and nicely drawn worlds.

  2. Maureen– Glad to hear you approve! Sometimes I am randomly (and yes this will be a pretty random comment) overwhelmed by the fear that my taste in literature has suddenly become grossly inverted…

    Emera– You have nothing on me– I have, what, like 200000 short stories to read because of you and you have ONE to read because of me

  3. Oh, I know exactly what you mean! Especially since a lot of the time I’m not impressed by/interested in award winners (other than the spec fic and YA awards). I suppose it’s just my contrariness coming out. :)

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