REVIEW: Stories from Daily Science Fiction, October 2-6, 2017

Reviews of stories published in Daily Science Fiction from October 2 through 6, 2017. Reviewed by Caitlin Levine.

I’m going to do something a little different here. I usually give short reviews of four of the week’s Daily SF stories and pick one to look at in length in a separate review. This week I had trouble limiting my wordiness to just one story, so I’m going to run a little long here…

“The Seven Deadly Genes” by Candice Lim, Oct 2, 2017: Read Online.

Lim creates a futuristic feel right off the bat with vibrant images of a world-of-tomorrow, while her characters’ actions and emotions feel just like our world today. She creates an interesting juxtaposition of the strange and the familiar, the advanced and the never-gonna-change. Our shifty narrator takes a quick turn for the honorable, leading us into an enthralling race against the clock.

For a society concerned with law and justice, we sure love the story of the honorable thief. Jean Valjean, who steals to feed his family; Robbin Hood and Zorro who steal to save their people. But Lim gives us a world where there is no justice, per say. No courts or judges to grant leniency. Laws are encoded into a person’s very body, and breaking a one of them means death. But for the honorable thief, there are worst things than falling prey to Greed.

“The Eternal Army” by M. K. Hutchins, Oct 3, 2017: Read Online.

Future meets past in a heartfelt tale of ancient roman soldiers and a future Rome. Mythology is layered with the worst of the modern world. Hutchins uses vibrant characters and clever dialogue to explore the theme of valor and the idea that “eternal” is not some characteristic of a place, but something that is created through hard work by those who refuse to let a place die.

I loved how Hutchins gave her roman character some old sensibilities but also made him completely accepting of how the world had changed.

This story makes me cry every time I read it – in a good way.

“The Interrogation” by Kelly Jennings, Oct 4, 2017: Read Online.

How would you handle it if you wanted to build a slave labor force that could never rebel? Assume that you have access to all that futuristic bio-engineering but you still have to use humans as your base. Give it a thought for a moment.

In Jennings’s story, they take the tack of keeping them cute and helpless. Jennings tells this tale as one side of a recorded interrogation, and does a fabulous job of making it understandable. The narrator manages to strike a tone that is both belligerent and helpless.

Now, the science in here actually works pretty well. Heads up for some light Spoilers: What this story is talking about is called horizontal gene transfer, and biologists think it has happened multiple times throughout the history of life on Earth. It is usually facilitated by a bacterium or a virus. Bacteria are always exchanging small gene packets with each other (it’s one of the ways that immunity to an antibiotic can spread so quickly), and viruses insert their own genes into a host’s chromosomes so that the host will replicate the virus. Because of this capability, modified viruses are often used as a tool in genetic engineering to insert the desired DNA into a new organism. Both of these mechanisms could end up inserting a piece of DNA from one host into another. It doesn’t happen often to multi-cellular organisms, but the possibility is there. Now, add to that a set of genes that are designed to mesh with the human genome, and have perhaps already been transferred by virus once? This isn’t looking improbably to me at all.

“Automaton” by Matt Handle, Oct 5, 2017: Read Online.

How do you tell a human from a robot? Or, a better question – how does a human tell whether they are a human or a robot? What, really, is the difference between the complicated programming of an advanced neural network and a human brain? Perhaps it is morality, emotion, and responsibility. And wouldn’t it be nice if you could give those up? Or maybe you just never had them in the first place.

Handle combines all of the philosophical debates surrounding otherkin with themes of personal responsibility and how we rationalize our actions.

“Glass” by Adam Dean, Oct 6, 2017: Read Online.

There area a lot of stories out there that take a look at Cinderella’s life after her marriage, but this is the first I’ve read that doesn’t deal with the short term. Instead of seeing Cinderella’s initial disappointment or delight, we jump forward years to see a Cinderella who has spent most of her life in an unhappy marriage. How could she leave, as a literal trophy wife? How bad do things have to get before she’ll try?

Dean’s story creates the same trapped feeling that comes with the fairy tale of Cinderella, told in an older and more world-weary voice.

This is Dean’s debut story, and a promising sign of work to come.

REVIEW: Stories from Daily Science Fiction, September 25-29, 2017

Reviews of stories published in Daily Science Fiction from September 25 through 29, 2017. Reviewed by Caitlin Levine.

“Your Life Unfolds, and Then–” by Barbara A. Barnett, Sept 25, 2017: Read Online.

My favorite story from this week! Check out the full review here.

“A Cost-Effective Analysis for the De-Extinction of the Woolly Mammoth” by Ronald D Ferguson, Sept 26, 2017: Read Online.

Ferguson gives us the dialogue from a short lecture on the costs of bringing back an extinct species, with a humorous ending. This is one of those stories that seems mostly a set-up for the twist at the end, but it is short enough to work well.

“Progress” by John Nadas, Sept 27, 2017: Read Online.

Nadas looks at a world where “units” – which sound a lot like humans – are being created as manual labor in a society of “superior” creatures – which could possibly be robots. The dialogue reads clearly as one side of an interview with a biologist who champions the use of these units, using arguments reminiscent of those favoring robots and AIs. I’m ambivalent about this story: it made me think without providing easy answers or resolutions, but I found it somewhat bland.

“When He Saw Her” by Cory Josiah Easley, Sept 28, 2017: Read Online.

Easley describes a typical romance between a boy and a girl, with a twist: They both live in a society where heterosexual relationships are treated with the disdain and discrimination society often deals to homosexual couples.

I thought this story had a lot of potential for complicated critical thinking that didn’t get fully explored. But it seems to me a great tool for those struggling to overcome their own prejudices: an inside look at these experiences using characters that resonate with a straight reader.

“Astronauts Can’t Touch You” by Carlie St. George, Sept 29, 2017: Read Online.

A well-written, engaging look at the personal nature of grief and its relation to emotional distance. St. George evokes strong emotions that will be recognizable to anyone who has lost a loved one. In a word: tragic. The metaphor of astronauts is played against the story’s plot of an alien attack. I liked how this story explored the complex ravages of grief through metaphor, but I found it unrelentingly, devastatingly sad.

REVIEW: “Your Life Unfolds, and Then–” by Barbara A. Barnett

Review of Barbara A. Barnett, “Your Life Unfolds, and Then—”, Daily Science Fiction, Sept 25, 2017: Read Online. Reviewed by Caitlin Levine.

I’m always fascinated by the seeming of consciousness. A good story brings the characters to life, but there’s something special about characters who interact with the writer or reader. In “Your Life Unfolds, and Then—,” we watch the narrator create a character as the story progresses, one aware – if not accepting – of their creation. And of course the narrator is not unaware of the parameters of their own “existence.” Barnett layers this tale with many questions about reality, awareness, and creation.

This is my favorite story from this week because of the interactions between the layers of participants – the character, the narrator, Barnett, and us readers.
The narrator’s sometimes creepy tone highlights the character’s frustration with not having control over their own life and contrasts it with the exuberant feeling of being the protagonist. If you are a fan of the movie “Schenectady, New York” or Tailsteak’s comic “1/0,” you’ll like this.

REVIEW: Stories from Daily Science Fiction, September 18-22, 2017

Reviews of stories published in Daily Science Fiction from September 18 through 22, 2017. Reviewed by Caitlin Levine.

“The City’s Gratitude” by Meg Candelaria, Sept 18, 2017: Read Online.

The narrator of this story is a great cop, but she’s been stuck behind a desk dealing with crazies. The latest one thinks he’s a time traveler. Candelaria keeps us focused on the world of the cop, telling us the story of the time traveler between the lines. What comes out is a sideways look at sexism in the police force interwoven with the uncertainties of time travel.

This story comes with a trigger warning, which Daily SF is understandably coy about since it concerns major spoilers. For those who prefer to know the sensitive material before reading, I have included a more detailed trigger warning below. If you don’t want any spoilers, skip over the paragraph between the bold tags, and check out the next review.

Ready? Here it is:

***SPOILERS AHEAD!*** Trigger Warning:The time traveler fails to stop nine-eleven, and the cop makes disparaging and cruelly ironic remarks about taking down the twin towers.***END OF SPOILERS***

“MAD Men” by Corey Ethan Sutch, Sept 19, 2017: Read Online.

A humorous, satirical look at the concepts of nuclear mutually assured destruction and personal self-defense armaments. Sutch asks us to consider not current situations but an extreme world populated by two companionable and argumentative neighbors. This story is worth a laugh on the first read and some deep thought on the second.

“Farewell, Amanda” by Buzz Dixon, Sept 20, 2017: Read Online.

My favorite story from this week! Check out the full review here.

“Maybe Next Time” by E.O. Hargreaves, Sept 21, 2017: Read Online.

This week’s super-short story about aliens and the nature of civilization, featuring a beautiful mountain backdrop.

“Head Full of Posies” by Melanie Rees, Sept 22, 2017: Read Online.

Steer clear of this one if discussion of Alzheimer’s or Dementia bothers you. This sad slipstream story follows an aging woman and the talking flowers who steal her memories. It is a coldly realistic look at the progression of these diseases, with just a hint at the possibility of dark magic. Rees’s writing is powerful and devastating.

REVIEW: “Farewell, Amanda” by Buzz Dixon

Review of Buzz Dixon, “Farewell, Amanda”, Daily Science Fiction, Sept 20, 2017: Read Online. Reviewed by Caitlin Levine.

I used to get recurring calls from a certain telemarketer. After saying “no thank you” and hanging up a few days in a row, I asked her to take me off her call list. It was quickly apparent that I was being called by a recording. “She” would respond when I said “yes” or “no,” but not when I said “take me off your call list” or “customer service” or “are you a recording?” These days it’s still fairly easy to tell when you are talking to a program. But…what if it wasn’t?

In this slightly chilling tale, telemarketer Amanda starts to wonder if she is a real person or if she is just a self-aware AI. Can memories be programmed? How far would someone go to gaslight a robot? The story is told from the point of view of Amanda’s supervisor, Turing, who assures her that “You’re as real as I am.”

Turing is a reference to Alan Turing and the Turing Test, which brings a whole other element to this story: Can you, the observer, tell which characters might be machine or human?

The writing style changes in the last section of this story in a way I found jarring; but at that point it is a short trip to the end, and the style change makes sense once you’ve read it. Throughout the piece Dixon creates a consistent mood which, together with excellently woven emotions, is why this is my favorite Daily SF story from this week.

REVIEW: Stories from Daily Science Fiction, September 11-15, 2017

Reviews of stories published in Daily Science Fiction from September 11 through 15, 2017. Reviewed by Caitlin Levine.

“The Depths To Which We Sink” by Melissa Mead, Sept 11, 2017: Read Online.

A tale of mermaids looking for their souls. Mead creates a pervasive resonance with the darkness of the deep ocean. I found the unfolding of events in this story a bit confusing, but it packs a poignant heroic ending.

“Ships Made of Guns” by MV Melcer, Sept 12, 2017: Read Online.

What would you do if your planet was invaded by an overwhelming force? Would you fight, would you hide, would you plot rebellion? Or would you surrender? A gripping story with a vibrant narrator and a gratifying twist.

“We Always Remember, Come Spring” by Michelle Muenzler, Sept 13, 2017: Read Online.

This action-focused scifi story follows the grueling “races” held by planetary colonists. An enjoyable story marred only by a passing hint of colonialism. Muenzler efficiently delivers backstory and takes a sharp look at people pushing their bodies to the limit. Her narrator strikes a hard-hearted tone that invites us to explore the meaning of sentimentality.

“Smile” by Emilee Martell, Sept 14, 2017: Read Online.

Super-short even by flash standards, “Smile” is a satisfying revenge story for those fed up with being hassled as they walk down the street.

“You Can Adapt to Anything” by John Wiswell, Sept 15, 2017: Read Online.

My favorite story from this week! Check out the full review here.

REVIEW: “You Can Adapt to Anything” by John Wiswell

Review of John Wiswell, “You Can Adapt to Anything”, Daily Science Fiction, Sept 15, 2017: Read Online. Reviewed by Caitlin Levine.

They say that people are endlessly adaptable. Sometimes that is a blessing; but, perhaps it is sometimes a curse. “You Can Adapt to Anything” follows two scientists, Miguel and Juniper, as they develop trans-dimensional travel. The two are the ultimate pair, united in love, purpose, and excitement. But after their portal breaks down, Juniper finds herself stuck in a different dimension – with a different Miguel.

Wiswell takes us on a technology-filled exploration of the nature of love. Alternately sweet, scientific, and sad, this story is an exquisite orchestration of emotions that never becomes sappy or trite. You’ll have to re-read this one to pick apart the layered questions of love and identity.

This is my favorite Daily Science Fiction story from this week because of the detailed relationship between Juniper and Miguel, paralleled by Juniper’s exploration of her own identity. The ending perfectly highlights the emotions of the piece and wraps up the story while opening the door for the characters to continue on.