REVIEW: “Slipping Through the Stars” by Laura J. Campbell

Review of Laura J. Campbell, “Slipping Through the Stars”, Luna Station Quarterly 40 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Rigel, the erstwhile queen of Sri’Quis, one of the last planets left with a monarchy, is beginning her exile. Her son is now king and she is better off out of the way. She’s headed to the Earth-controlled planet Lough Dergh, in the company of an Earth-born bodyguard, Mary Osprey. Between Rigel’s anger at being forced into exile, and her hatred of the Earthlings who saved her once from assassination, the story opens in a mess of angst. But as Rigel’s exile draws out, and we learn more about Mary (explicitly asexual, a pro-active special agent, “There is nobody else like me.”), everything begins to change. I really liked Dr. Mary Osprey.

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: “Six Years Stolen” by Damon L. Wakes

Review of Damon L. Wakes, “Six Years Stolen” in Ten Little Astronauts, (Unbound Digital, 2018): 73-104 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

“Six Years Stolen” is another murder mystery — a sniper is picking off policemen, one by one, and Malcolm is co-opted by his superiors to track down the murderer. But this version is a bit more noir than the previous one — set against a grimly dark backdrop that is presumably in the future but at the beginning feels (despite what would be obvious anachronisms) rather like the 1930s. It doesn’t take long for it to take a sharp turn into dystopia, though, when we find out that everyone has been drugged without their knowledge, for more than a century — a drug that prevents people from blacking out each day. I would say more about the drug and the side effects it is intended to prevent, but that would give away too much of the horror… This was a superlative premise, excellently executed.

REVIEW: “Ghosts of Bari” by Wren Wallis

Review of Wren Wallis, “Ghosts of Bari”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 114-124 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Empires rise and empires falls, but against this grand backdrop, “salvage is the only long-term game in the universe” (p. 114). Eli, Mati, and Kin are a team of salvagers who work in the Bari region of the universe — a place that few other salvagers go — harvesting whatever they can from the ghost ships that float through there. They’re well-trained, they’re well-informed, they are good at what they do. But no amount of knowledge or experience can prepare the crew for a ship so old it doesn’t turn up in any of the Oracle’s databases. Not only that — this ship isn’t dead.

The story ultimately circles back to where it starts: The rise and fall of empires, how empires can be remembered and memorialised. There is a sharp pathos to this story that nearly brought tears to my eyes.