You can read today's story HERE!
Summary: The Shi who got chopped up in the first WARS story ruminates while it reassembles its body.
Its September 24th, 2004, and today we finally meet the Shi as they see themselves. Of course, we've met the Shi before, but as antagonists. Today they take center stage, and get to tell their own story, but whats funny about it is their story is barely a story: its more like an essay. The model for this story is clear: this is a very similar story to “Followers Have Neither Peace Nor Rest”, which was basically a dissertation on the morality of fictional future Earth's Jingoism. In parallel to that, we get a Shi reflecting on the history of the Shi, as well as their place in the Universe, and the nature of the Universe itself. Where “Followers” could be easily compared to a Greek Dialogue, where different figures debate the merits of an idea, the best thing to compare this story to is a conceited college essay by a Freshman who thinks he knows everything, or perhaps even better an essay by a professor who can't see the flaws in their own argument.
This structure isn't exactly what we'd call normal, nor what we'd expect to read from a Science Fiction property, and you'd think the story would be boring being what it is, but its not. In fact, before we get any further, lets lay some basic groundwork here about the quality of this story: this is the second story featuring the Shi, the first where they are the protagonists, and the last story in which the Shi are really done right. After this story, the Shi will never be quite as interesting again, sadly, but we don't know that yet. We do know that the Shi were pretty darn weird the first time we saw them, with their strange Psychic conversations and floating dolphin bodies. Fleshing them out at all has the danger of making them generic bland human like aliens, and that danger is scary. Hence, the strange structure. Stackpole is a master craftsman of a writer, and whether by conscious intention or simple intuition, he managed to come up with a scenario odd enough for a short story that anything he does tell us comes off stranger than it would have otherwise.
This is after all a story framed around an alien piecing its body back together after being chopped up, which is something you don't see every day, which devolves into the alien itself pretentiously going through its own opinions on the universe, and the events that got it chopped up. Its also a spin off of the first WARS short story, where the Shi in question was chopped up. This not only makes this story notable for supplying some keen and much needed narrative continuity, as it feels very much like part of the Torako/Starhawk story cycle without actually featuring the appearance of either of those characters.
Giving the Shi's perspective in itself is fascinating, as Stackpole never lets up from the Shi being the center of the Universe from its own perspective. To this Shi, it is the protagonist, and should be the protagonist, and any idea that the story might follow anyone else is ludicrous. Humans after all form the backbone of science fiction. We are the ones exploring the Universe, we are the ones chasing far flung dreams and far off stars, and any aliens we meet will no doubt learn that humans are awesome and deserve to be running everything in the universe. That humans might be so inferior as to not be worthy of someone's time isn't something people like considering. After all, if our whole species is boring, useless, and uninteresting, what does that say about the individual? Luckily, the Shi find everyone boring, useless, and uninteresting, which is what led to their downfall.
The greatest moment in this story is when the Shi considers the idea that by going through the Rift the Shi might have created a new universe in which the Shi were weaker, and then casts that aside as impossible because there was no way it could be weaker, as it continues to lie chopped up on the floor. Its a brilliant moment of hubris taken to a level that is nearly beyond human, but it also leads us to other interesting questions about the arrival of the Shi and Quay. We learn here the full story of the Shi and Quay's arrival, how the Shi enslaved the Quay and left them to die, how the Quay didn't and started getting their way off world and raiding Shi colonies, how the Shi built their bomb to blow up the Quay's sun, how the Quay stole it and then drove it into Seyal's sun, and how they tore their way into our solar system to escape. Its a good story, but it leaves us with some rather horrific realities.
First off, the Shi's hubris isn't unearned. They have for millenia done nothing but take over species and toy with their development, playing god with them and exterminating them for leisure. The Shi have the technological ability to raise up entire planets to greatness, but also the know how to structure that rise so when the Shi leave the entire society collapses. That the Shi have been so good at this that the Quay are literally the first to post any threat to the Shi is disturbing, especially the heavy implications that if the Shi hadn't been so full of themselves exterminating the Quay would have been easy, but instead they chose not to worry about the imminent threat of the Quay till it was far too late. Even then, the Quay still have no idea where their homeworld is.
Second off, there is the possibility that the Shi created the Universe we live in by trying to travel to it. That is, that the Mumon Rift is not simply a hole in space the Shi cut to hop to somewhere else in the universe, but a much more complex event that led to inter universe travel. There are a lot of consequences of this, but I will be exploring them in the essay “WARS Cosmology”, so we'll skip the details for now, but needless to say that the Shi had the technology to either create or hop between universes is kind of a big deal.
Third off, death is only a big deal for the Shi because they have a class system, and Shi who are lower in the class system get worse natural healing mechanisms. They also can share their thoughts and form something similar to a hive mind. That the Shi in this story is casually piecing its body back together after the ridiculously massive damage it took in the last story is incredible in itself.
Fourth off, that the Shi, despite all their technology that gives them the power of gods, are in fact in a ridiculously weak position at this point, and are threatened by the humans and Quay. That beings that rose as far as they did technologically can be in such a fragile state is a scary thought when so much of our future is relying on technology to go forward.
All together, this makes the hubris of the Shi even more awful. The Shi are both right to think themselves technologically superior, and idiotic to not realize that a change of tactics might be necessary. If instead of being overlords, the Shi wanted to work with any of the human cultures, and share their technology in exchange for help fixing their planet, or a new place to live, well, we wouldn't have the conflict to create WARS would we? But we'd also be missing that essential element that makes the Shi interesting: their annoying correctness. Its not that the Shi aren't evil or immoral in enslaving every species they encountered till no, its that after what was probably thousands of years of encountering no species that could even come close to their level, they determined they were the best species in the universe and had the right to enslave them, and they have yet to be proven wrong that any species has accomplished more than them. Sure, humans have the moral high ground, as do the Quay, but the Shi have done the best for the longest time.
Which takes us back to “Followers”. The story which directly parallels this one in being an essay rather than a narrative. The story about a culture who thinks it has the right to rule the solar system, and has the right to take it by force, because right now it is only protecting its own best interests, and that of others.
This is the most biting thing that can be said about the Earther mentality Sheria Coreg introduced to us: its the same attitude of a species of imperialist slavers who have killed more beings that all of humanity in all of history put together. Both of them are espousing a right to take, a right to own what isn't theirs, even as they deride other's right to do to the same back, or keep what they still have. If the Gongen and the Mavericks turned out to not be as different as they once thought, with a chance of working together in the future, the Shi and Earthers are cosmically aligned. If WARS had continued, its almost impossible to imagine they wouldn't have teamed up against at least one other faction, if not more. While I can't say they could trust each other remotely, at the very least they'd get along well at the dinner table.
The Shi thought that maybe this universe, our universe, had been created from the Shi's nightmares. Could it be that they wouldn't get along with the Earthers at all, and their worst nightmare would be confronting a version of themselves, still fresh out of the budding sack? A species that could conquer them the way they conquered others.... Indeed, if the Earthers and Shi didn't get along in the end, would the Earthers try to make Seyal their colony? We won't know for certain, but the direction of the wind is strong enough, I think we can tell which way the boat was headed.
As for the Quay, they're still outliers, and we'll cover their introduction soon enough, but for now lets take a look at some other people fleeing their fallen planet some people snuck a bomb onto...