‘Prime Meridian’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A novella about a young woman in a future Mexico City deciding what to do about her dreams after her well-planned life has been derailed.

In ‘Prime Meridian’, Silvia Moreno-Garcia shows us a young woman, Amelia, trying to shape her life, to make the right choices after having been knocked off course from a career planned to take her to Mars when she had to drop out of college to look after her sick mother.

The story is set in a near-future Mexico city with some interesting extrapolations of current trends: gangs taking over the entrance to train stations for a day a charging commuters an admission fee; a rich elite living in a parallel world to everyone else; a lack of job opportunities pushing people into taking up roles as paid stalkers or, like our heroine, selling blood or selling her time on Friendrr, a service where people pay her to sit with them while they talk to her about their lives as if she was their best friend.

‘Prime Meridian’ is the kind of speculative fiction that is set in the future not so much as a prediction of where we are going but as a change in the surface manifestation of things to allow us to see ourselves and our choices more clearly. By setting her characters in a familiar but slightly changed environment which offers different choices and constraints, Silvia Moreno-Garcia shows us that our hopes and fears and loves and hatreds do not change fundamentally from one era to the next but remain the constants that energise us. That energy is shaped by the choices and constraints we have in front of us.

This idea is reinforced by interspersing the main narrative with the script of a (very) low-budget space adventure set on Mars where the setting has very little impact on THE HERO and the woman SPACE EXPLORER. She also gives Amelia an elderly Friendrr client who, in her youth, played the female lead in those kinds of movies. Both the script and the actress say to Amelia:

‘There are only two plots. You know them well. A person goes on a journey or a stranger comes into town.’

In this story, it has always been Amelia’s intention to go on a journey, to head out to a new life on Mars. Mars is a symbol of transformation as a new start for colonists but Mars is also as the setting for a so-awful-it’s-an-art-form bimbos-in-fur-bikinis SF movie that was the brightest moment in the life of Amelia’s elderly actress client, I think this means that Mars is both the physical planet and a metaphor for the pursuit of the extraordinary.

The central problem Amelia has is, should she / can she follow her dream and go to Mars? This becomes a problem of identity for Amelia. Now that she’s not an on-track-to-a-career student, who is she? Who should she be?

Is Amelia the person she dreamt she would be or is she the dreamer whose dreams were partly shaped by who she knew she was not and by things she knew she could not have?

Amelia stumbles towards the question of her own identity by reflecting on the changes in her ex-lover. She says:

He did not appear older most days, but that morning, he was his full 25 years, older still, not at all the boy she’d gone out with. He’d looked very much the Hero when she’d first spotted him and now he did not seem the Villain, but he could not save maidens from dragons or girls from space pirates. He had settled into the man he would be. That was what she saw that morning. Whom had she settled into? Had she?

He is the man who was her lover when they were both at college, dreaming of who they would like to be if they were not who they were. He, a rich man’s son with dynastic duties, she a scholarship student with a sick mother.

As she considers her own failure to change, it seems to Amelia that:

‘There was an expiry date to being a loser. You could make “bad choices” and muck about until you were around twenty-one, but after that, God forbid you committed any mistakes, deviating from the anointed path, even though life was more like a game of Snakes and Ladders than a straight line.'”

We watch Amelia slide back towards this man, more from inertia than choice, until one day she thinks to herself:

‘I think I’m becoming a professional mistress.’

We see her considering the route taken by the elderly but rich former actress who tells her of her own choice:

‘So, I cashed in my chips and married well. I thought it was more dignified than shaking my ass in a negligee until the cellulite got the better of me and they kicked me off the set.’

Slowly, carefully, Amelia decides on who she is going to be and what plot she is going to follow.

I found this to be a thoughtful and engaging story with people who seemed real to me making the kind of choices we all have to make in one way or another.

It made me think about the title, ‘Prime Meridian’. Clearly, it’s meant to be a science fiction-ish title even though the story is more about an interior dialogue. So, why ‘Prime Meridian’ rather than SPACE EXPLORER or MARS as used in the script? I think it’s because the Prime Meridian, the line of longitude that marks the division between East and West, is unlike the equator, entirely a matter of convention. It is wherever we all agree it is. Perhaps there is a message here that, before she can get her life back in motion, Amelia needs to define her own Prime Meridian, a reference point against which she can measure her progress.

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