Ammonite

Ammonite

by Nicola Griffith

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

Winner of the Lambda and Tiptree Awards“A knockout . . . Strong, likable characters, a compelling story, and a very interesting take on gender.”—Ursula K. Le Guin

Change or die. These are the only options available on planet Jeep. Centuries earlier, a deadly virus shattered the original colony, killing the men and forever altering the few surviving women. Now, generations after the colony lost touch with the rest of humanity, a company arrives to exploit Jeep—and its forces find themselves fighting for their lives. Terrified of spreading the virus, the company abandons its employees, leaving them afraid and isolated from the natives. In the face of this crisis, anthropologist Marghe Taishan arrives to test a new vaccine. As she risks death to uncover the women’s biological secret, she finds that she too is changing—and realizes that not only has she found a home on Jeep, but that she alone carries the seeds of its destruction. . . .

Ammonite is an unforgettable novel that questions the very meanings of gender and humanity. As readers share in Marghe’s journey through an alien world, they too embark on a parallel journey of fascinating self-exploration.

“A powerful story of connection, allegiance, and obligation. Read Nicola Griffith’s book—and keep an eye out for her name in the future.”—Vonda N. McIntyre 

“A marvelous blend of high adventure and mind-boggling social speculation.”—Kim Stanley Robinson

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345452382
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/30/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 414
Sales rank: 194,614
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Nicola Griffith is a native of Yorkshire, England, where she earned her beer money teaching women’s self-defense, fronting a band, and arm-wrestling in bars, before discovering writing and moving to the United States. Her immigration case was a fight and ended up making new law: the State Department declared it to be “in the National Interest” for her to live and work in this country. This didn’t thrill the more conservative powerbrokers, and she ended up on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, where her case was used as an example of the country’s declining moral standards.
 
In 1993 a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis slowed her down a bit, and she concentrated on writing: Ammonite (1993), Slow River (1995), The Blue Place (1998), Stay (2002), Always (2007), and Hild (2013). Griffith is the co-editor of the Bending the Landscape series of original short fiction. Her multimedia memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner Notes to a Writer’s Early Life, is a limited collector’s edition. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in an assortment of academic texts and a variety of journals, including Nature, New Scientist, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Out. She’s won the Washington State Book Award, the Tiptree, Nebula, the World Fantasy Award, the Premio Italia, and the Lambda Literary Award (six times), among many others.
 
Now a dual U.S./U.K. citizen, Nicola Griffith is married to writer Kelley Eskridge. They live in Seattle, where Griffith is currently lost in the seventh century, emerging occasionally to drink just the right amount of beer and take enormous delight in everything.

Read an Excerpt

Marghe’s suit was still open at neck and wrist, and the helmet rested in the crook of her left arm. An ID flash was sealed to her shoulder: “Marguerite Angelica Taishan, SEC.’’ The suit was wrinkled and smelled of just-unrolled plastic, and she felt heavy and awkward, even in the two-thirds gravity of orbital station Estrade.

She stood by the airlock at the inside end of A Section. The door was already open. Waiting. She rested the fingertips of her right hand on the smooth ceramic of the raised hatch frame; it was cool, shocking after two days of the close human heat of A Section.

The sill of the airlock reached her knees; easy enough to step over. No great barrier. The lock chamber itself was two strides across. The far door was still closed, sealed to another sill, like this one. Four steps from here to B Section. Four steps. She had recontracted with SEC, endured six months of retraining on Earth, traveled eighteen months aboard the Terragin, and spent the last two days on the Estrade bumping elbows with the three-member crew, all to take those four steps.

“Well, Nyo and Sigrid say good luck, but they’ll be out there for hours yet, fixing the satellite.’’ Sara Hiam unclipped her headset. The slight, small woman with the atrophied muscles and club-cut dark blond hair was matter-of-fact, using her doctor persona. In the two days since she had come aboard Estrade, Marghe had learned that Hiam had several distinct facets to her personality, facets she rotated to face any given situation. It was a survival tactic, one way Hiam—and Sigrid and Nyo—had managed to spend five years up here without going mad. Marghe knew there was a great deal of the doctor she had not seen; she wondered what the real Sara Hiam was like.

“Life support is up and running in Section D,’’ Hiam said. “Are you ready?"

Adrenaline, faster than conscious thought, flooded through Marghe and she had to discipline her breathing, decreasing her pulse and respiration rate, slowing blood flow and reducing the sudden over-oxygenation of her long muscles. Her face pinked as the capillaries under her skin reopened; her muscles stopped fluttering. It was a routine learned long ago.

“I’m ready."

“Very well.’’ Hiam’s voice was suddenly more measured, formal. “I’m obliged to remind you that the vaccine FN-17 now offered is still considered experimental. I also remind you that once you have taken it and once you step beyond this airlock, you will under no circumstances be allowed back into Section A: nor, whether or not you proceed as planned to Grenchstom’s Planet, will you be allowed to enter any other uncontaminated Company installation until you have undergone extensive decontamination procedures.’’ She sounded as though she was reading from a screen prompt. “These procedures consist of—"

“I know what they consist of,’’ Marghe said. She pulled on gauntlets, closed her wrist seals. Was it her imagination or did the air coming from the lock smell different?

“This is a taped record, Marghe. Let me finish. These procedures consist of: isolation; the removal of all subject’s blood, marrow, lymph and intestinal flora and fauna and its replacement with normal healthy tissues; reimmunization of subject with all bacterial and viral agents commonly found in Earth-normal human population; prior to return to home planet, further isolation at a location to be decided upon to determine the efficacy of said reimmunization. Do you understand these procedures?"

“Yes.’’ The lock was small but, unlike the rest of what she had seen so far of Estrade, blessedly uncluttered.

“Further, I remind you that although FN-17 is a development of the Durallium Company, the Company in no way holds itself responsible for any adverse effects that may result from its use. Nor, though you are to be offered the utmost cooperation aboard Estrade and on Grenchstom’s Planet, are you to be considered an employee of said Company liable to the financial restitution available to indentured personnel. Is this clear?"

“Yes.’’ She closed her neck seal, hefted her helmet. “That’s everything?"

“Yes."

“Will you help me with this?’’ She should have put the helmet on first; the gauntlets made her clumsy.

When the helmet and shoulder ring clicked together, the suit air hissed on. It tasted hard and flat, not like the warm, rebreathed air of the orbital station. She tongued on the broadcast communications. “Can you hear me?"

“I hear you.’’ Hiam checked a workstation screen. “You’re reading well enough.’’ She looked up. “You?"

“Loud and clear.’’ Through the audio pickups Hiam sounded even more remote and doctorlike. And then the only sound was Marghe’s own breathing and the faint hiss of the forced air. Blue and purple readouts flickered in the lower left of her vision. Everything worked perfectly. There was nothing else to wait for.

Marghe stepped over the sill. Her boots clumped and echoed in the bare chamber, and her breath sounded loud. She touched the amber light on the control panel; the door slid shut. Hiam, arms folded, was visible through the small observation window.

Marghe studied the variety of lights, then tapped out a command sequence. A display flared red: vacuum. Her helmet pickups were full of a hard hissing, and readouts flickered, then steadied, showing zero pressure, zero oxygen. When she moved, she felt vibration through her boots but heard nothing.

The wall display changed: airlock systems routed to estrade main control prior to decontamination procedures. To proceed, input sequence. Another last-minute reminder: once she started on this, there was no turning back. Marghe tapped out the memorized sequence. raise arms, raise chin, stand with feet apart. Marghe did. Blank visor for fifteen seconds. Commencing. Even through her darkened visor and closed eyes, she sensed the flare as the chamber was flooded with radiation.

Exterior decontamination complete. Lock governance returned to interior control.

Marghe cleared her visor, opened her eyes, blinked away the dancing green spots. Hiam was still in the window, watching. Then, suddenly, she was gone.

Marghe watched the blank window for a moment, then took a deep breath and turned to the second door, the second panel with its red light. She reached out to input the sequence that would open it, that would enable her to take that last step over the sill that marked the boundary between what was understood and controlled and what was dangerous.

“Marghe, wait."

Marghe whirled, forgetting the two-thirds gravity. Hiam was back at the observation window, headset at one ear. Marghe had to breathe slowly, in and out, before she could speak. “What?"

“Turn on your suit comm."

Marghe tongued the channel on. “What’s wrong? What have—"

“Nothing.’’ Over the closed channel, Hiam’s voice was quiet, intimate. No longer the doctor. “This is off the record."

“I don’t—"

“Just listen. All those things I said before, about isolation, about spending time somewhere unspecified before going home . . . that’s not what really happens."

Marghe listened to her heart kicking under her ribs. She breathed, seeking calm. Never refuse information, her mother had taught her when she was just six years old, you never know what you might need. But her mother was dead. She managed a Go on gesture.

“If you leave the airlock, if you take the vaccine, you’ll never go home. Not ever. I had a . . . a good friend. On the planet. Was one of the initial batch taken off Jeep for study. She promised to be in touch. I think someone else wrote her mail."

“How could you tell?"

“It felt all wrong."

“If she’d been ill—"

“No. Just listen. It seemed fine at first. I assumed she just wasn’t feeling good. Decon’s not pleasant. Anyway, I didn’t pay close attention. But once when I wrote back I put in a private joke we’d shared for a long time. A very long time. When I got her response, I knew. It wasn’t her."

Marghe said nothing. She wished she had just taken that last step, not listened to Hiam—this new Hiam. The real one?

Hiam watched Marghe intently, then laughed, a short, hard bark. “You don’t believe me."

“I’m wondering why you didn’t tell me this before. Why you let me get this far."

Hiam stepped right up to the glass, close enough for Marghe to see the pleats of her irises. “Because I couldn’t decide whether to trust you. But, Marghe . . . this is real, and somebody has to know. I can’t prove any of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. You seemed . . . I just thought . . .’’ She laughed again. “I should have saved my breath."

Marghe did not know what to say. “You and Sigrid and Nyo have all been up here a long time. I know that must—"

“Don’ t patronize me,’’ Hiam said wearily. “If you don’t want to believe me, then that’ s your privilege, but don’t patronize me."

Marghe shook her head. “I’m sorry."

Silence.

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