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.

REVIEW: “Little /^^^\&-” by Eric Schwitzgebel

Review of Eric Schwitzgebel, “Little /^^^\&-” , Clarkesworld 132: Read online. Reviewed by Kerstin Hall.

Works of science fiction and fantasy produce an inordinate amount of unpronounceable names. Say, for example, Kvothe (Cough? Voth? K-Voth-ee?). Or, in the pre-HBO days, Daenerys Targaryen (Day-ne-rice?).

Or /^^^\&-. On reading this story, my first thought went out to whoever was responsible for the podcast. It transpired that Clarkesworld’s Kate Baker opted to use musical tones to represent the names of the entities in this story, which I found to be an elegant solution. More so than, say, ‘slash-up-up-up-slash-ampersand-minus’.

/^^^\&- is by no means little. She is a planet-sized consciousness, or perhaps a planet with a consciousness. For the purposes of this review, she can be seen as a bored computer intelligence powered by ‘chambersful of monkeys’. She’s serving out a jail sentence in our solar system, and the place is a dump.

The monkeys are biological humanoids living within /^^^\&-, a fact which becomes apparent later. She is both their home and their creation; their work powers her thoughts and actions. Without diverging too far into the realm of interpretation, through /^^^\&-, the monkeys are collectively their own god, a point which becomes increasingly thematically resonant.

With little else to do, /^^^\&- decides to teach Earth how to speak. This takes a while, and the narrative strays from /^^^\&-’s perspective while Earth reconfigure itself into ^Rth^. I found this to be a weaker section of the story, and preferred the scenes that were more firmly rooted in character.

/^^^\&- is a funny and likable protagonist. Both she and the narrative tone sober as the story progresses, and she grows increasingly attached to ^Rth^ and her own monkeys. She affirms the value of the small and powerless, particularly after an incident of carelessness renders their fragility apparent.

The story juxtaposes the colossal and the minute in touching ways, and ultimately builds to a conclusion that is tragic and uplifting.