Study Questions and Notes on Michael Swanwick's "Slow Life" [2002]

Swanwick's story takes place on Titan, Saturn's largest moon, and the only body in our solar system--besides Earth--know to have large bodies of surface liquid: oceans and seas. Visit this website for information about our current knowledge of Titan and the composition of its oceans. A quick look at the comments on Titan might reveal some of the kind of information that Swanwick, a contemporary hard science fiction writer, relies on to create his story

The story presents us with three characters [Alan Greene, Lizzy O'Brien, and Conseula Hong] on a mission to explore Titan. Greene stays on an orbiting vessel while O'Brien and Hong investigate the moon's surface while wearing armored exploration suits. While Swanwick writes hard science fiction to some extent dominated by scientific detail, the story also includes some humor, and even mystical elements through Lizzy O'Brien's dreams' voices. Consider some of the following issues:

  1. How does Swanwick enact a critique of social media in his story? Is his humorous attack on social media sustained by social criticism? If so, what exactly is he critiquing?
  2. How do Lizzy O'Brien's dreams function in the story? With whom is she conversing in her dreams?
  3. Early in the story, speculating about the possibility of life on Titan, Lizzy O'Brien thinks that if there were life on Titan, "It would have to be slow life" [164]. This thought, of course provides us with the title of the story. However, how does her thought about slow life on Titan become ironic by the story's end?
  4. How do you interpret the end of the story? Does O'Brien survive her life-threatening ordeal? If so, how?