Your Truthful Sister

Christopher Mark Rose believes that humans should look more toward their nearest neighboring planet for inspiration and future exploration. His new story “Venus Exegesis” uncovered the mysteries of that yellow planet, and it appears in our March/April issue [on sale now]!

by Christopher Mark Rose

I’m reluctant to speak for stories that should speak for themselves at this point in my development as a writer. “Venus Exegesis” is more than a simple story though. It’s asking you to believe something, or at least consider the possibility of something outlandish. It’s a big ask.

I think I’d be glad for the idea at the core of this story—that Venus harbors evidence of past life, perhaps intelligent life, on its surface—to be proven wrong, though I am doubtful that that could be done conclusively, or any time soon.

Such “disproven” stories hold a ghostly potency, pointing to futures that are no longer accessible from the timeline we are now on. I think of Greg Bear’s early story, “A Martian Ricorso,” which imagined a quite animated and apparently intelligent life form on the surface of Mars, building canals. That story was published just months before the Viking probes landed on the red planet.

Let me say first that I am not a scientist in any formal sense. It was and is difficult for me to give myself permission to write in an authoritative voice about astronomy, ecology, and especially climate change. I have no special knowledge or privileged viewpoint on these things.

Also, I’ve not been a very convincing proponent for fighting climate change. I realize the hypocrisy in this stance. I still drive a gasoline car. I don’t own any solar panels. I have walked in the March for Science in DC, but not with much hope of any specific outcome from my presence there.

But I can say truthfully that it has vexed me, as a kid and as an adult, what a huge amount of effort has been paid to exploring Mars, by NASA and the astronomy community generally, when it seems clear to me that Venus has far more to teach us.

It may have simply been a matter of doing the easier thing first. Venus is not the easiest place to get to, or to get around on—or even exist on, for very long. I think of the Venera probes, the longest-lived of which functioned for two hours on the planet’s surface. Someday, perhaps, humans will discover the blobs of metal and semiconductor that those probes eventually became.

But I think it’s more than that. As I get older, I am less and less a fan of looking in the mirror—of seeing what has happened to me, what changes age and poor habits have made to my face, to the rest of me. The reflection might show me some weariness, droopiness, the effects of various indulgences; some minute amount of guilt is hidden there too.

Sometimes, it’s better not to look.

And I get the feeling that Venus is like that. A massive blind spot—the closest planet to our own, a mirror of sorts—a kind of spiritual and literal sister gone wrong, a warning and a reproach.

But I can say truthfully that it has vexed me, as a kid and as an adult, what a huge amount of effort has been paid to exploring Mars, by NASA and the astronomy community generally, when it seems clear to me that Venus has far more to teach us.

If you’re lucky in life, you have one sibling that you can go to to get the truth, regardless of the state of your life or theirs. Earth is lucky that way.

The connection between Venus’s runaway greenhouse effect and our own, human-made climate change seems appallingly plain to me, and a terrible warning. I wanted to raise a voice to draw attention to the lessons Venus that might be whispering to us.

But I think the trick of it, of inserting into a story any message that involves even a tacit appeal to the reader, is to create around it a story that’s engaging enough that the message is hidden in the background. I hope I’ve done something like that here.

We fiction writers are, on the surface, so powerless. We are putting words on pieces of paper—the most unobtrusive, quiet, ignorable act one could imagine. But our writing can speak with its own voice, and if it’s compelling enough, and truthful enough, we can have faith that it will find an audience.

I look around and see that, in aggregate, we’re creating a generation of work, at least, in which climate change is the central feature. I’m glad to be a part of that work. It makes me hopeful that my children, and the children of our time, will know what the deal is with climate change, will know that their happiness, and the lives of future generations, will depend on the choices we, and they, make.

Christopher Mark Rose ( and Twitter @CChrisrose) lives in Baltimore with his spouse, two children, and one crazy dog. He is a founder of, and impresario for, Charm City Spec, a reading series in speculative fiction. The author’s own fiction has appeared in Escape Pod and Interzone; and he’s sold nonfiction and poetry to Uncanny and Little Blue Marble. 

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