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: “Keep Moving” by Raluca Balasa

Review of Raluca Balasa, “Keep Moving”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

In this creepy dystopian story, Sarrai lives in a world where social structures are set up to systematically destroy any chance of forming an emotional connection with other people. Love is decried as a spell “that made them hurt when the others did”, and children must be kept moving from one child-rearing institution to another, never knowing their caregivers’ names until they are old enough to do so without forming an attachment to them.

This is quite possibly one of the most horrific foundational principles I’ve ever come across in a story.

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.