REVIEW: “When You’re Ready” by M. Ian Bell

Review of M. Ian Bell, “When You’re Ready”, Apex Magazine 110 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

A scientist is hard at work, modeling a human life from conception, tweaking variables of upbringing, trying to guide the simulant to a specific outcome. He’s done this many times before, but never gets the results he is looking for. The story follows his current attempt, with reflections on what has gone wrong before.

I enjoyed the way this story plays with memory and experience, and how people are hurt, supported, and otherwise influenced by the people around them and by their own choices. The way it engages with the nature versus nurture question is hardly unique – I think it’s pretty well accepted at this point that both factor into the people we become – but the depth of the reflection is rare, and I found it rewarding. I feel like this mirrors how many of us reflect on our lives, endlessly imagining how different circumstances might have brought us closer to the person we wish we were.

The story deals with so many interesting questions. How much can you change a person before they become unrecognizable to the people who know them? Can undesirable events lead to desirable results? What about an individual is inborn, and how much can be changed through experience? And most importantly, how much can a person will themselves to change, given a set past?

This doesn’t have what I would consider a twist ending, but the ending does color the story that came before, once you get to it. The pieces of the past slowly come together to create a satisfying conclusion. I highly recommend this for anyone who likes reflective, essentially psychological science fiction.