Monica Byrne offers a romance in her story “Alexandria,” which was published in the January 2017 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Aside from being set in the future, there is very little about the story that reads as science fiction.
Beth Miyake is coming to terms with the death of her husband, Keiji. Through her memories of him, the reader learns that while they had a deep love for each other, it manifested itself in ways which were not obvious to outsiders. Beth’s family never understood their relationship and Keiji tended to be quiet when the two of them weren’t alone.
When they were along, they understood each other perfectly, although Beth could never understand why Keiji insisted that she memorize and then destroy the love poems that he wrote for her, refusing to allow her to discuss them with anyone else. They were emblematic of their love for each other.
Aside from one disappointing trip they took for their honeymoon, the two didn’t leave Kansas. Upon arriving in Alexandria, Egypt on that trip, they discovered that the Lighthouse of Alexandria had been destroyed seven centuries earlier. It had never occurred to them that it was no longer standing. Since then, their travels had been done virtually through reading books about the places they would never physically visit.
With Keiji’s death, the Lighthouse of Alexandria became as much an emblem of their love as the poems that Beth had committed to memory. Through shrewd investments, Keiji and Beth had amassed a good deal of property in their small Kansas town and now it was time for Beth to divest herself of most of it, building a replica of the Lighthouse in a move that the rest of the townsfolk, including those who headed the construction, realized was a folly.
Through brief quotes scattered throughout the story, Byrne makes it clear that Beth succeeded in building the Lighthouse, although like the original hers was damaged in an earthquake. Byrne also uses these quotes to indicate a future world in which climate change has taken its toll.
On the one hand, Beth’s obsession with the Lighthouse can be seen as a form of insanity. However, that is clearly not the message Byrne is trying to convey. Instead, the focus is on Beth’s unquestioning love and connection with Keiji. She sees something in their relationship that is invisible to any outsiders and she feels the need to pay tribute to it in an attempt to allow others access to their love.
In the end, the Lighthouse is built and its beacon shines out with Beth living in its uppermost rooms. Although she may have bankrupted herself, she achieved her dream, or at least most of it. Once the workmen left, it was time to focus on what would really make the Lighthouse a symbol of the love Keiji had for her in terms that could not be questioned.
The story works because Byrne never gets maudlin about their relationship, but instead deftly shows Beth’s success over the years following her death, ending with archaeologists seven centuries after her love story with Keiji had run its course.
Steven H Silver is a twenty-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for eight years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference six times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.