REVIEW: “Accidental Kaiju” by Dianne M. Williams

Review of Dianne M. Williams, “Accidental Kaiju”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

13-year-old Grendela dreams of becoming not another kaiju (a type of great Japanese monster) like her father and grandfather but an environmental scientist. Maybe there’s more to being a lava monster than smashing buildings and destroying cities. Maybe she could use her special knowledge of volcanos to help power cities rather than destroy them. But unfortunately, her little experiment didn’t go as planned.

This was a cute little story about hopes and dreams and how sometimes when one is a teenager one needs a little help and understanding from their parents and grandparents.

(First published in The Confabulator Cafe, 2016).

REVIEW: “Moonlight Plastics” by Rachel Brittain

Review of Rachel Brittain, “Moonlight Plastics”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I found this story a little too in the mind of the MC, Sana — there was a lot of reflection and recrimination and meta content that would’ve made sense if I were properly situated in Sana’s world, but unfortunately, I wasn’t. So I had a hard time putting together all the pieces to figure out who she was and what she was doing, and why it mattered.

I also struggled with the abrupt shift in tone: It started off as a commentary on our modern-day tendency to flood the ocean with plastics, and then suddenly it jumped left and became a mermaid romance.

All in all, not the story for me.

REVIEW: “Nanoscopic Nemesis” by P. K. Torrens

Review of P. K. Torrens, “Nanoscopic Nemesis”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August (2020): 106–107 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

The story is told from the perspective of a medical nanobot performing a tumor excision surgery on a patient. Realizing that the tumor has metastasized, the nanobot proceeds to find its source and eradicate it.

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of the “AI with a personality” – or “AI with attitude” – types of stories, especially when the AIs in question are depicted in a fairly realistic manner (as they are here). Certain lines like “I want to crack a beer open because that’s what my programmer does” or “My processor purrs” or “The liquid nitrogen washes over my RAM like a cool wave over a scorching beach” feel out of place in a story like this. Such a style is superfluous to the narrative.

That aside, I really appreciated the detail with which the author treated the hypothetical subject of nanobot surgery in the story. The author clearly knows his stuff and does a great job at delineating (in just enough detail) the innards of a technology that will quite possibly exist in the future. Medical nanobots are perhaps the first truly tangible “miracle drug” that science fiction has conceived, and well-crafted stories about them are always welcome.

REVIEW: “Lowlife Orbit” by Rich Larson

Review of Rich Larson, “Lowlife Orbit”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August (2020): 94–95 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Earth is slowly dying, and in an effort to provide a new home for humanity, the governments of Earth have started terraforming Mars. Unbeknownst to many, however, this process will take a long time: up to 1000 years. That is why a team of smugglers – uncle and nephew – have decided that it is OK to steal some of the terraforming materials in low-Earth orbit and sell them in the black market for profit. The uncle has no moral qualms about the operations since he believes the Mars terraforming project is nothing but a pipe dream. On the other hand, the nephew is more apprehensive about the future. However long it takes, he argues, one day Mars might be the new home of Humanity.

A thousand years means nothing to the human brain […] We evolved to deal in seconds. Minutes. Days. Years. A millennium, we’re not equipped to imagine that.

Despite its brevity (~1000 words), “Lowlife Orbit” is a story with a lot to unpack. It simultaneously deals with human shortsightedness, as well as the human tendency to ignore the problem at hand. In Larson’s version of the (near) future, Earth is presumably ravaged by climate change and humanity has given up trying to fix it. Instead, they’ve piled all their hopes on the possibility of a habitable Mars. At the same time, the protagonist of the story can’t help but point out the futility of that hope.  Whether it is because of indifference, pessimism, or simply pragmatism for the present, he resigns into a sort of unhealthy apathy that satisfies neither side of the argument. As usual, Larson is able to imbue a lot of personality into his characters in a brief and concise manner. The story ends with a glimmer of optimism, before circling back to the same status quo.

REVIEW: “Kill the Witchman” by William Broom

Review of William Broom, “Kill the Witchman”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 306 (June 18, 2020): read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

This is a story about the malleability and unreliability of memory. Dumu, the narrator, initially knows neither his name, his past, nor his motives. He is nevertheless in relentless pursuit of the witchman, Ketan, who has the power to implant false memories in anyone’s mind. “This is the power of a witchman: memory is wet clay in his hands. What you remember is what he wishes you to remember, and nothing else.” What Dumu comes to remember is that he is Ketan’s brother and that Ketan’s son, Nazd, is his much-loved nephew. But are these “facts” true, Dumu wonders, or false memories implanted by the witchman? This question—What is real?—is one readers must grapple with, too. It makes the story a somewhat frustrating read, since nothing in it can be taken at face value. Yet Broom is a talented writer and his story forces readers to confront the slipperiness of our own memories and what that implies about our own perception of reality. 

REVIEW: “Aboard the Mithridates” by Sean Vivier

Review of Sean Vivier, “Aboard the Mithridates”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August (2020): 86–89 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Aboard the generation ship Mithridates, the passengers are slowly adapting their bodies – through training and gene therapy – to survive on the planet Hephaestus, the atmosphere of which contains large amounts of sulfur. Zarah Ngata is coping well with these changes, but not all kids at school are handling it as easy. One young man, Gavin, is having a hard time as his lungs seem unable to process the increased concentration of sulfur in the air. Zarah speculates that he won’t survive the next stage of the adaptation process. She’s determined to do whatever she can to help save the life of her less capable schoolmate.

In “Aboard the Mithridates,” Vivier presents an interesting take on the popular science fiction trope of the generation ship. Many stories such stories are often focused on the breakdown of the generation ship’s society, whereas here, the ship’s inhabitants remain focused on their goal. Vivier also comments on the unpredictability of the offspring and the real possibility that they’re not fit for the harsh environment of a generation ship. I was happy the story addressed these issues. Running at approximately 2400 words, the story does not have the chance to dive very deep into its themes, but it does, nevertheless, raise some interesting questions regarding the communal lifestyle that would be required in a generation ship. Is individual sacrifice acceptable if it benefits the rest of the community?

There are some plausibility issues, however. For example, I find it unlikely that Gavin’s health issues would be totally ignored by everyone except another child. It’s also unlikely that a society capable of building generation ships would not have some way of easing his pain. A respiratory aid, perhaps.

REVIEW: “Rite of Passage” by Jerry Oltion

Review of Jerry Oltion, “Rite of Passage”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August (2020): 99 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

After graduation, Roshi prepares for his first solo moonwalk in his new 5-piece space suit.

There’s not much happening in this story other than the titular “rite of passage”, which presumably is the act of putting on the new suit. There’s a brief moment of tension (if one can call it that) when the character almost forgets to put on a helmet, but otherwise there’s not much plot to speak of. The story is simply a 460-word description of someone putting their space-suit on.

REVIEW: “The Augur and the Girl Left at His Door” by Greta Hayer”

Review of Greta Hayer, “The Augur and the Girl Left at His Door”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 306 (June 18, 2020): listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Knowing what lies in store for you versus the perhaps illusory freedom that comes from not knowing is the conflict that lies at the heart of this story. As its title suggests, the story revolves around two main characters, both unnamed. The augur somehow has the ability to foretell a person’s future by examining “every bump and line in his flesh.” The girl abandoned on his doorstep is, from the start, a spirited creature. Each comes to rely on the other, but the relationship is not without conflict. Though the augur has taught his adopted daughter to read and write, he refuses to teach her his way of foretelling the future. When one day he finds the girl reading a priceless volume called The Diviner’s Book of Augury, he rips it from her hands and throws it in the fire. Was this cruel or kind? I have my own opinion, but I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself. 

REVIEW: “Ganymede’s Lamps” by Michèle Laframboise

Review of Michèle Laframboise, “Ganymede’s Lamps”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Many stories have been written about what life would be like living on another planet (or moon) in our solar system — the lack of air, the difficulty in growing food, the distance between you and your family and friends left at home — but Laframboise eschews all those grand issues for a much simpler one: What about pets?

More specifically, this is the story of Bethesda’s journey towards getting a cat — and not just any cat, a real cat, not a mech one. On Ganymede, cats are hard to come by and hard to justify. But her birthday is coming up, and maybe this is the year she can convince her mom to get her one.

This is a story any cat lover will appreciate!

REVIEW: “The White Place” by Dana Berube

Review of Dana Berube, “The White Place”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Berube’s story drew me in right from the opening paragraph. I felt the cold of the snow, felt Ti’s hunger, want to know more of how he ended up in Berron’s bed, who the Ordermen were and what sort of church law they maintained. It was the perfect balance of engaging characters, poignant description, and a heart-breakingly sweet and heart-breakingly sad plot that I enjoyed all the way through to the end.