In a modern interpretation of the epistolary novel, S.L. Huang’s 2016 novella, The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist examines one of the oldest unknowns, the vast depths of our own ocean system. Drawing from myths of mermaids as old as sea travel, this story is one of first contact, politics, and, in its way, love.
Told from the perspective of Cadence Mbella by some unknown writer, it is made up of recordings of her own subvocalizations during the time that she attempts contact with a recently discovered species of intelligent sea creatures who leave so deep in the ocean that they can’t even see, but communicate and sense in other ways. But something goes wrong when a militarized group attempts to circumvent her research and instead kidnap one of the so-called mermaids.
This sets off a series of events that eventually leads Dr. Mbella back to the sea, to discover, as deeply as a human can, the extent of the Atargati way of life.
Despite its short length, the novella manages to present the reader with a lot to consider; from its in medias res beginning to its heartbreaking and eye-opening conclusion, the language Huang uses to tell the story is some of the most evocative in the contemporary SF canon. This is one of those stories that redefines what it is to be human, what science is, and how we think about myth and culture.