“The secret life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer, read with some of the stereotypical monotony of a robot voice by Kate Baker and also drawing on other robot stereotypes, is a pretty straightforward hero story, with a monster, a sidekick, a clever plan derived from incidental observation. If I was into the monomyth myth, I'd definitely try to match it stage by stage with this story.
“Antarctic Birds” by A. Brym is confusing: I get that it's a story about sabotage against alien superiors, and that the two main characters are vastly different in this respect. But I don't get what's going on. Who are the masters, makers, humans, birds (actual and … metaphorical?), engineers, hybrids, children? Should I #reread this, maybe?
In “Venice Drowned” by Kim Stanley Robinson, the Water in the Adriatic has risen by—what, a dozen meters? It doesn't appear entirely consistent. Venice is still inhabited (though more of a shanty-town on the roofs) and still gets Japanese tourists who go scuba-diving in the depths for stuff to ship home and exhibit. All in all somewhat okay, a bit boring – except for the storm, which is treating the protagonist quite impossibly, but everyone else seems to barely notice.
“Fleet” by Sandra McDonald is a post-apocalyptic story set on Guam. The main character Isa is a trans woman with implanted knowledge, both of the mystic world and the world before the silence, granted to her by the wise governors. As such a ‘bridge’, she has ceremonial duties, the biggest is to be on the lookout for the Fleet, the long awaited arrival of the outside world back to the island, with all the restoration of civilization that promises. Worth a #reread.
"In the Blind" by Sunny Moraine is one of those stories about lonesome people in space. Except in this one, there's exactly two of them, from vastly different social backgrounds. And they aren't out in deep space, they are orbiting earth with a good view—which makes the dead communication silence even more of a thing that just shouldn't happen and shows just how alone they are, standing by and waiting.
“The Stone Weta” by Octavia Cade is a tiny ray of light in a looming dystopia that is more alluded to than described, very cleverly done and well written: The characters are woman scientists working on ecology and related subjects that directly observe the ongoing environmental catastrophe. They are spread all over the world, in a brave network to keep the data that shows the need to act available, true, and safe, sometimes at immense cost. Go, read/listen to it! http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/cade_08_17/
The “Oracle”, in the story by Lavie Tidhar, stands in a long tradition of mystics, but her personal connection to the other is a result of her own search for meaning in life, a path that invariably intersects with the emergence (through genetic algorithms) and of super-AI, incidentally brought about by an ancestor of hers in Jerusalem, near her own home of Central Station/Tel Aviv/Jaffa. It plays in the same setting as other stories by Tidhar, and has the same subtle, but deep worldbuilding.
“Twisted Knots” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires mixes some topics I know nothing about, and some I know enough about to break my suspension of belief hard. Topology, reduced to its pop culture notions of Moebius strips, cups and donuts; cognition, or more like sentience even without cognition; academic careers; and a background of puppet play, golems, and personal relations combine to a narrative that I might have liked had the half-knowledge not jarred me time and again.
Story: War, Sex
Oof, “Forever Bound” by Joe Haldeman is another hard story, but in an entirely different manner. The premise is that the US are using remote-controlled mechs to fight their wars, and the pilots of a squad get brain implants to feel and control the mechs, but also each other deeply and intimately. The protagonist fell for a squadmate before the training, and enhanced by the implant telepathy, their love life turns addictive.
Story: Postapoc, Slavery, Child labor
“Last Chance” by Nicole Kornher-Stace is set in a cruel post-apocalyptic world, covered in ash, with raiders, forgotten knowledge, wastelands and warlords. Aneko, the main character, is still a kid, captured by raiders and forced to work, digging through the ruins of beforetime, because that's dangerous and kids are expendable to the raiders. Were she any less smart, lucky, cautious, and strong-willed, the story would have absolutely no chance of a happy end.
I wonder if the seed of “The Bridgegroom” was a typo and Bo Balder thinking ‘I wonder what kind of man would marry a bridge? I wonder what a *bridge* would do with a *groom*?’ Even if so, that's just the inspiration; actually, it's not marriage but a prison sentence, and the bridge is not really a bridge but an immobilized AI, but the man is still a young man, a med student from a small village in the Alps after the world has been thrown back into a new middle ages, and it's still for life.
“The Significance of Significance” by Robert Reed takes the simulation hypothesis literal, proven, and to the extreme, and then adds a meta-physical hypothesis on the top: It's not only a simulation, but an attention-grabbing game. People can either live in denial of this – like the parents do – or go mad trying to live every experience before the game ends, like the main character. Or else.
“The waiting stars” by Aliette de Bodard is again set in her universe of the Dai Viet Empire with its ship minds. Here we get to understand the vast cultural gulf between them the outsiders, the Galactic Federation. The story revolves around two rescue missions: The Galactics re-educate girls from the Empire to prevent their shipmind pregnancies, while some Dai Viet try to rescue their great-grandaunt (a shipmind) from a pile of derelict ships. These two strands interact in an interesting ways.
Story: Cannibalism, sexual assault
“Travelers”, by Rich Larson, is well-written, but I did not need those themes. I can deal with the somewhat supernatural horror stories, but if a woman wakes up in the middle of a long-distance space flight due to a medical issue, to find a creep who had Cryonics Failure three years ago and not just resorted to, but cherished cannibalism, and her medical issue is also due to him – then that's not a story in my taste, well-written as it may be.
“An Age of Ice” by Zhang Ran is a really short, but also quite superficial story about cryonics. The mother is frozen for 50 years, which is short enough that she can meet her daughter again when the daughter is 74 years old. But clearly, that's not enough. The story sketches some image of the future, without actually explaining it even in broad strokes, assuming that some bits of the framework change but culture, economy and society remain surprisingly similar.
In the world of "The Ways Out" by Sam J. Miller, there are people with superpowers, and they are suppressed, stigmatized, controlled, sometimes hunted, by a government Bureau. The story takes the form of the surveillance reports of an agent who is tailing a 10-year old skateboarding girl, without understanding what is so special about her. So what can she – and her mentor, Hector – even do to find a way out of that system?
“An Account of the Sky Whales” by A Que is a mediocre story about a single-minded bum who is suffering from a break-up bad enough that he's willing to smuggle his dead ex-girlfriend's ashes across light years. The protagonist did not make sense to me, neither did the ecology or the physics. The survival story bits in the middle are okay, but not that special. If I had read it, i would have skimmed over large parts, but that is hard when listening. There are better stories in #clarkesworld.
“Human Error” by Jay Lake is a story that uses a probably alien Macguffin to tell about breaking human minds and greed. Human error is the second most frequent cause of death among asteroid miners, after ‘stupid luck’ but before psych-outs. This story is has all three of them, because they don't come in isolation, and they compound each other, in particular when an earlier death and the promise of one billion TK¥ cloud everyone's minds.
Geek of computer models; Consumer of speculative fiction; Armchair anthropologist through role playing games.
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