Craig and Steve are two professionals who, once a year, get away to a pristine and wild place—the less people and the more exotic, the better. Steve works in a cubicle and Craig is a freighter captain; their annual trips are mental health forays that allow them to survive the other fifty weeks of the year. And the rough terrain and lack of amenities help them appreciate their more mundane home lives all the more.
This year the two men visit Bifrost, a small world that is seemingly a wonderland of exotic wilderness—there are purple ferns, panthers as large as elephants, and small nibbling creatures foaming in the rivers and streams. Their destination is the Asgaard Bridge—a beautiful pinnacle of rock that arches across a seemingly bottomless canyon—and they are on a tight schedule. They only have one week to get to Asgaard and back to the pick-up zone.
“Landscapes” is a terrific short story that represents everything—well, almost everything—I like about science fiction. The prose is smooth, the story is interesting and full of wonder and (I mean this as a compliment) it is comfortable. The sort of comfortable that allows me to be part of the story; I know the trails, the hills, and the happenings of a backpacking trip and Mr. Anderson captured it. His seemingly simple style allows the story to develop on its own terms—the words and cadence don’t get in the way—and it is plotted very much like a backpacking trip. It meanders just a little, in the same way a trail carves itself across the terrain, and the reader doesn’t know exactly where it’s going until the final few paragraphs. And I loved every word.
”Landscapes” originally appeared in the anthology Millennium 3001 edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Russell Davis and it has since been published in Kevin J. Anderson’s excellent story collection Landscapes.