Spiders communicating through black hole short story(?) around the early 80's


New Member
Jul 28, 2020
I read this one back in college in an anthology, that I believe was about the 1980's(?) Hugo awards. Pretty sure this wasn't a winner or even nominated, just the anthology collector really liked it. (I have searched the lists in surrounding years for it, but I definitely could have missed it.) I remember the anthology being a black cover, but there was no dust jacket on any books in this library, so it may have originally been more decorated.

The story itself was about a linguist who gets invited to work at a top secret satellite near a black hole. She quickly learns that the reason for the secrecy is they made contact with aliens through the black hole. The aliens look like spiders, putting the humans on edge, which doesn't help the humans trusting these very pragmatic spiders. The spiders have no word for art and have philosophical debates with the humans so they can get to know each other better. (Minor Spoilers On The Theme Of The Book) The spiders sometimes seem ruthless, but also because of the language barrier, that is up to some interpretation if they're cruel or just out to survive the best they can. The spiders can't pass through the black hole, but they teach the humans how to. The spiders are made of sulfur and can't pass through but the human's long carbon chains can be coded through and strung back together. (BIG SPOILERS OF THE END COMING UP) The humans end up sending a cat through, and the spiders send it back, but make it some percentage more intelligent, which causes the cat to try to kill the retrieval team and the cat gets burned alive in the retrieval bay as the humans were prepared to not trust the spiders. The spiders own up to what they did saying they just wanted to make it smarter as a gift, although it's left open that they could be lying about just making the cat smarter.
The main character sleeps with her captain (there was some romance barely written in through this whole thing but this was kinda out of the blue iirc) and he whoops slips a bomb in her. She gets sent through the black hole next and the spiders immediately kill her. She wakes up and the spiders explain they have her carbon code and remade her, because she got sent through with a bomb inside her she didn't know about, so they coded that out and did it again. They then ask her to be their liaison on the other side of the black hole and she agrees.

That's pretty much the entire plot, and for searching here's a quick tl;dr sum up:
There's themes about distrust, moral ambiguity, and language barriers.
Carbon, spiders, and black holes are all things that get brought up a lot.
Pretty sure it was in a hugo anthology at one point in the early 80's, but I think it wasn't a nominee.
Probably a short story, possibly a novelette, pretty sure it wasn't a novella.
Setting is in space, by a black hole.

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