A to Z Reviews: “The Good Food,” by Michael Ezell

A to Z Reviews: “The Good Food,” by Michael Ezell

A to Z Reviews

“The Good Food,” by Michael Ezell originally appeared in the 2016 anthology Beyond the Stars: At Galaxy’s Edge. The story feels like a classic science fiction story, placing a single human, his enhanced animal companion, and a computerized ship on an alien planet which has been seeded with plant life and insects in the first stage of a terraforming project.

The planet on which Jensen lands has demonstrated an anomaly. The vegetation around the landing base established by humans has died off, leaving a straight edge not too far from the landing plate in a pattern which could not be natural. However, there is no indication the planet has intelligent life on it.

Although Jensen, as the human, appears to be the commander of the mission, the actual situation isn’t quite as straight forward. Jensen, a former soldier, and Roy, his enhanced dog, are sent out of the ship to explore the region, while the ship’s computer, called Moira, stands ready to analyze any samples they might find that may be related to the anomaly. Their mission goes sideways when they discover a small creature ready to attack both Roy and Jensen, potentially at the head of a larger attack.

Cover by Julie Dillon

Unfortunately, the story not only feels like something that would not have been out of place in the magazines of the 1940s, it also feels like a story that has been told before. Although the specifics of Jensen, Roy, and Moira’s story may be different from earlier tales, the broad strokes are familiar and the story is relatively predictable.

However, plot isn’t everything in a story. Characterization matters and Ezell builds up Jensen’s character quickly in and in swift strokes. Through the character’s interaction with Moira, it becomes clear that as a former soldier, he really isn’t in the right role, even as hired muscle. Despite his training, Jensen’s first instinct is to open fire and he has to stop and reconsider before giving into the reflex. He also seems to have issues with following Moira’s directives, something that seems strange for a professional soldier, but something which may be indicative of a bias against artificial intelligence on his part.

In the end, Jensen’s instincts for reacting to their discoveries may be the right decision, but that comes across more as luck than through any specific actions selected by Jensen, Moira, or even Roy. Each of the three have different reactions to the threats which face them, although only Roy’s and Jensen’s are fully depicted in the story.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven 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.

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Rich Horton

While I haven’t read many of these stories, it’s fun to see the names at the front and back of the alphabet for each letter!

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