REVIEW: “Your Future is Pending” by Matthew Kressel

Review of Matthew Kressel, “Your Future is Pending”, Clarkesworld Issue 158, November (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

This is a slice of life story about a dystopian future where people get even more engrossed in technology than they already are at present. Virtual reality has taken over, and people stay plugged in for days at a time. To the extent that people have service bots that clean them, because they’re too busy being plugged into the virtual world to even bother with basic hygiene.

Martha works for one of these companies, and her life is real life. She knows the temptations of VR, and actively rejects it. It’s a bleak, allegorical story, and oddly engaging because of it.

Martha’s life, as contrasted with the lives of those who are completely into virtual reality, is much more difficult, ordinary and frustrating. An illuminating insight into the ever increasing gulf between the haves and have-nots.

REVIEW: “Song Xiuyun” by A Que

Review of A Que, “Song Xiuyun”, Clarkesworld Issue 157, October (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Clocking in at over 10k words, this is more of a short novella. An arresting take from the very beginning, it drew me in immediately.

The concept in itself is something that has been done before, but not quite in this way. Song Xiuyun loves her son Li Chuan very much, and will believe everything he says to her. Wu Huang drives a remote powered car from the comfort of her home, and picks up Song Xiuyun and Li Chuan as passengers. This is where Song Xiuyun is telling Wu Huang the story, and Wu Huang is often affected by the narrative in a deeply personal way.

The story’s narrative format does increase it’s impact on the reader as well. Both Song Xiuyun and her son Li Chuan try quite hard to make each other happy. The ambiguous ending could go in many ways, but none of the options are perfect. It’s significant because if you think about all the possible options that are presented there, you’ll see that all of them have a tinge of sadness in a certain way.

A lovely tale that is fairly emotional but also about how lies can sometimes be the only thing that can make a loved one happy. A grey area to be sure, but sometimes that’s justified, or at least it can be, if you’re willing to believe in people.

REVIEW: “National Center for the Preservation of Human Dignity” by Youha Nam

Review of Youha Nam, “National Center for the Preservation of Human Dignity”, Clarkesworld Issue 157, October (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Set in a future dystopian timeline, this story focuses on acceptance, dignity and death. A world where, if you can’t pay survival tax, you’re. In effect, poor people who can’t afford it are taken to the National Center for the Preservation of Human Dignity.

When our protagonist gets the final letter asking for payment, she knows this is it. Her hours, not even days, are now numbered. The story is a peek into how she handles this, knowing her own time and manner of death.

The National Center is a place of mild luxury, for people to her to enjoy their last hours. Everyone handles this news and revelation differently, and our protagonist seeks dignity.

Her dignity is a character of the story in itself, something that she clings onto quite strongly.

REVIEW: “An Arc of Lightning Across the Eye of God” by P H Lee

Review of P H Lee, “An Arc of Lightning Across the Eye of God”, Clarkesworld Issue 157, October (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

An unusual sort of first contact story. Zhou is a young magistrate in a post where he has to do nothing but stay out of trouble. Indeed, his posting was chosen for this exact reason. Nepotism mixed with his inability to actually take decisions is a larger part of this story than you would expect.

The first contact, the girl creature, is not entirely human, but isn’t not human either. She shows a different kind of life, a different way of existence, one that may bring hope but may also be unsettling for many – and not just due to fear of the unknown. Her life, culture and way of communication is something humans have never seen before. Zhou himself is unsure of how to react to something possibly so monumental that he inadvertently doesn’t.

A nice insight into the bureaucratic systems of old as well..but in space.

REVIEW: “All Electric Ghosts” by Rich Larson

Review of Rich Larson, “All Electric Ghosts”, Clarkesworld Issue 157, October (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Right off the bat, the world building is detailed and intense. Benny is a man in grief, taking the help of whatever he can to help him survive his loss. There is mention of drug usage, but in a very matter of fact way, which lent yet another nuance to the story. Make no mistake, this is a very nuanced story already. In fact, it feels like the beginning of a much larger story. I would definitely like to read the larger work this seems to be a part of.

Benny gets involved with some aliens, and he quickly forms a bond with them, because they’re the best way he has found to deal with his grief and survive in a better way. He needs them for his next hit, and they need him for vaguely nefarious purposes. Along the way, he finds a tenuous friendship, which hints at the possibility of it turning into a stronger one.

This story will leave you wanting more.

REVIEW: “The Visible Frontier” by Grace Seybold

Review of Grace Seybold, “The Visible Frontier”, Clarkesworld Issue 154, July (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

A beautifully written story, with poignant emotions, a wonderful narrative, and wondrous descriptions. There’s a lot of focus on world-building, and I’d love to read more stories in the universe. When the story starts, you’ll assume a certain timeline and setting, but there’s a Reveal in store. When you realize how different things are from what you expected, it adds another layer of depth to this story.

Our protagonist, Inlesh, is a curious and intelligent young man, and we follow his journey of inquisitiveness throughout the story. Which, honestly, is what makes this story so poignant.

Richly woven in terms of both storytelling and world building.

REVIEW: “The Painter of Trees” by Suzanne Palmer

Review of Suzanne Palmer, “The Painter of Trees”, Clarkesworld Issue 153, June (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

This is a multilayered story with a great deal of depth. It alternates between a first and third person voice, so you’re left guessing which of the characters our narrator is.

The characters are part of a council who have inhabited a new world. They’re taking over land that isn’t theirs – a forward march only, in their own words. No negativity or nostalgia for the past allowed. They’re all cogs in a wheel with no space to be creative or unique. And they’re reminded of it continually. The great thing about this story is how widely it is open to interpretation.

For me, it was an allegory of the Native American culture. I don’t know if that’s what the author was going for here, but this is what it related to in my opinion. The creatures outside the narrators habitat are slowly being driven out of their own land, just like the settlers did to the Native Americans. Eventually, it led to genocide, and this story also unravels what happened to the original inhabitants of the land.

A bit of history in a futuristic Sci Fi setting. The original inhabitants have not been described minutely, all we know is they are multi legged and do not have a face. They are also referred to as ‘it’. This can also be connected to Native American culture by way of a metaphor of how the colonizers treated them.

Calling them it strips them of their individuality, and leaves no respect. Them not having a face may be about how their identity and culture was forced away from so many. And they live in trees – they’re one with nature. Nature, who will not give up her secrets so easily to the grasping and grabby newcomers.

All this is just a very subjective idea of what I read between the lines. Even if you don’t, it is a still a wonderful story. You’ll keep guessing who the narrator actually is, and the world building will subtly draw you in.

This is a story that’s good at face value, and equally good should you choose to read between the lines.

REVIEW: “Möbius Continuum” by Gu Shi

Review of Gu Shi, “Möbius Continuum”, Clarkesworld 132: Read online. Reviewed by Kerstin Hall.

This one didn’t work for me, and it may be the case that I was simply the wrong audience. As it stands, I found “Möbius Continuum” to be amongst the weaker pieces published in this issue of Clarkesworld. I believe that readers with a taste for the philosophical may find more to admire – that’s not what floats my boat.

In part, the story functions as a thought experiment, a sort of mental repositioning. It is interesting, but there’s little more I can say without giving major spoilers. And even though I anticipated the ending, I still didn’t quite buy it. The conclusion necessitated a kind of tidiness which I experienced as anti-climactic.

Early in the narrative, the protagonist crashes his car over a cliff. Both he and his passenger survive, but the protagonist is left paralysed from the neck down. His enigmatic companion urges him not to despair, and to see his injuries as an opportunity.

I think my largest problem with “Möbius Continuum” is that I never received a strong enough impression of the protagonist’s character. I found it difficult to care about him, and thus the stakes of failures never raised my heart rate. I can see how this nebulousness served an ultimate thematic purpose, but I experienced it as a structural problem. Why should I be invested in this story, what is there to keep me reading? The answer is probably intellectual curiosity, but I wanted emotion on top of that.

REVIEW: “Pan-Humanism: Hope and Pragmatics” by Jess Barber and Sara Saab

Review of Jess Barber and Sara Saab, “Pan-Humanism: Hope and Pragmatics”, Clarkesworld 132: Read online. Reviewed by Kerstin Hall.

Two people strive to restore a broken Earth, even as their efforts push them apart. Amir and Mani are devoted to renewing toxic cities and waterless countries, and they are devoted to each other. Circumstances encourage them to choose between their purpose and their feelings, in a world which demands pragmaticism.

This story is gentle and romantic and elegant. The characters are nuanced. They grow together and apart and together again, and their relationship serves as both a source of conflict and of comfort.

This story wasn’t necessarily my favourite of the September selection, purely based on personal preference. There was much that I found poignant, and even more that I found clever, but I never felt fully invested. For me, the plot was too dispersed. My impression was of a series of vignettes.

The reader is offered snippets of a post apocalyptic life. We flit from one small triumph to another and nothing ever goes catastrophically wrong. There are small disappointments, but the trajectory of hope is always upwards.

Maybe this one was simply too melancholy for me, even in its ultimate optimism.

 

 

REVIEW: “The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer

Review of Suzanne Palmer, “The Secret Life of Bots”, Clarkesworld 132: Read online. Reviewed by Kerstin Hall.

Bot 9 has been in storage for a while. It’s a dated model with a reputation for instability, but when the ship runs into a crisis, even temperamental old multibots are called to assist. 9 is to deal with a pest problem –something is chewing through the walls– and while it would prefer a more important job, it dutifully sets about hunting down vermin.

This story is warm and funny and endearing. The narrative is well-constructed, and balances humour and tension throughout. The narrative voice is especially appealing when 9 is the focaliser. The newer bots and the ship are dismissive of 9’s limited functionality, so there’s something thoroughly charming about our hero’s gung-ho attitude. It might not have access to the newfangled ‘botnet’, but it never doubts its ability to get the job done.

The situation onboard the ship escalates. In between fighting off the pest (which is a bit like a bug, and a bit like a rat, or perhaps more like a “Snake-Earwig-Weasel”), 9 decides to fix the humans’ rather more life-threatening problems too.

If you are looking for something amusing, satisfying and easily digestible, “The Secret Life of Bots” won’t disappoint.