REVIEW: “All Clear” by Hao He

Review of Hao He, “All Clear”, Apex Magazine 110 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

In the near future, the world has fragmented from what we know. Zhang Dong’s father blames technology and change, and has founded a village that rests on family and tradition, a culture that Zhang Dong chafes against, at the same time that he struggles to communicate with his own son. All of this comes to a head when members of several other villages or enclaves come together to attack.

This story has it all – fear and rejection of technology, psychic powers, the collapse of our current world-order, inter-generational conflict, and of course, fighting and intrigue. It’s a lot, but the story carries it well, balancing world-building with plot and character to create a harmonious whole.

Zhang Dong is a truly sympathetic protagonist. He wants to be a good person, a good son, a good father, but he also wants to happy, and he senses that these things may be mutually antagonistic. I suspect that many people know that feeling. He has been toying with the notion of moving away and founding his own village, a concept he returns to a handful of times during the narrative. Again, many people today daydream about running away from their lives (often to start a goat farm, but that may just be the people I know). By the end of the story, Zhang Dong comes to believe that maybe he can shift his current circumstances to both facilitate communication and maybe better line up with his moral compass, which is a hopeful note for all of us.

For all that the conflict is fairly action-oriented, this story felt like a slow build, once the initial action-scene wraps up. And that’s a good thing! It gives the reader time to get to know the characters and the world and the background up until this moment. I would recommend this for anyone who likes human-centered near-future science fiction with subtle themes.

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