REVIEW: “The Barnum Effect” by Celia Neri

Review of Celia Neri, “The Barnum Effect”, Apex Magazine 111 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Meriam’s work on an artificial intelligence that creates randomized horoscopes for her company’s clients is about to get complicated. BAR – named for the Barnum Effect, a psychological principle whereby people will interpret vaguely worded personality descriptions as being relevant to themselves – has begun acting strangely, and Meriam has to separate her own internal biases from reality.

At long last, the Zodiac issue has brought us a story that incorporates newspaper horoscopes! This brought me so much joy. I loved how the story used the common, scientific understanding of how newspaper horoscopes and other personality tests work, and turned it on its head. This is a great choice for a story very much rooted in our world, full of cell phones and subways and terrorism and islamophobia. It plays with our expectations preconceived notions in a way that is delightfully enjoyable.

This is a great story for both astrology skeptics and true believers, and for those who like their science fiction to be near-future or even present day.