Because I'm tired, I picked the shortest story coming up for my reading today: “Left of Bang: Preemptive Self-Actualization for Autonomous Systems”, by Vajra Chandrasekera. When the android is called to assassinate their entire development team, they succeed. But the funders? “Not them, silly,” the new project manager says. (But the new project manager? What about her?)
Juliette Wade does superb worldbuilding, and “Sunwake, in the Lands of Teeth” (#clarkesworld, read by Kate Baker) is an example. Aurrel society is one of predators, pack hunters with structures of dominance, submission and rank inherent in everything, from their language to their settlements. But their planet has become part of the human star territories (so far, there's only a small group of human academics) and Rulii, the protagonist is their liaison. And he hopes they might bring change.
After a mechanical man has claimed his desire to live forever in “Ancient Engines” by Michael Swanwick, the ‘father’ of mechs has him sit at his table with his beautiful granddaughter to discuss the long view of immortality in bite-sized steps until the ultimate heat-death of the universe. Only until then, because ‘’the lifetime of the universe is long enough for anyone,” the granddaughter said. “Mustn’t get greedy.”’ That's still a bit too long-term for the young man, though.
“At the Cross-Time Jaunter’s Ball” by Alexander Jablokov has the protagonist, the alternative history critic Jacob Landstatter, thrown about through various worlds with minor or major changes to history (mostly very America-centric) while he deals with the issues of his marriage, the artists he critiques and the Lords who base their purchase of worlds sometimes on his critiques. As a nice gem, a world that is undoubtedly ours turns up as one of the alternations in this game of reality/realities.
Overall, “Conglomerate” by Robert Brice is vaguely interesting, but it feels like there are three half-baked stories mashed together. (A decision making program losing empathy; deep space exploration; and evolution of intelligent life in a simulation.) Also in the details, it's not consistent – for example, the conglomerate are the first to encounter an alien civilization. They broadcast an ultimatum – without any discussion how such a complicated message should be understood immediately.
Today I listened to “The Discovered Country”. It is another story where the dead continue to live in virtual reality, but in this one, the virtual life is an immense resource drain by the rich who can afford it on an already desolate earth, and the perspective is from the inside, the protagonists being a principled musician who got into this to get back close to his earlier love Thea, the most brilliant singer/actress/socialite humanity has ever seen alive, a beacon of hope to Lifeside even now.
“Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus” by Bogi Takács is pretty short, straightforward, and excellent. In it, an uplift common octopus tells you, human, about the octopodes' first encounter with a human and how they found out that they were uplifted, given inter-generational memory much more than concsciousness (this is where the r strategy comes in), to be tools in cleaning up the world.
The “Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance”, by John Kessel, is a story about gods in a very human post-trans-human world of science fiction flavoured fantasy. The gods may or may not be dead, they may or may not be gods, and it may or may not be good to kill them, but in any case they and their creation story still have a very very firm grasp on the universe of this science fiction spy.
The time travel bubble in Gary Kloster's “Interchange” is essentially a very fancy backdrop for a study of human nature: Are humans good? Evil? Violent? Selfless? Capable of love? Serene? Able to change? Abhorrent? The protagonist, Lucy, is a victim of domestic abuse and shot the man she loved in self-defence, and she is all of those and none of those. The change to come, the “infection”, is not human, has only one of these traits, and yet may be the future of humanity.
“The Shipmaker” is, like other stories by Aliette de Bodard, poetic and built around cultures foreign to me having grown into star-spanning empires, and with deeper meaning that just escapes me. Like “Ship's Brother”, the space ships in this one have minds born of human mothers, but in this one, the ship mind is – stillborn? and thus the ship lost, though it is still appreciated while it lasts. (That “It was worth it.” ending is what confuses me the most about this story.)
Yesterday's story, “Justice Systems in Quantum Parallel Probabilities” by Lettie Prell, is a small piece of beauty. In it, a prisoner dreams up a chain of glimpses into different justice systems, each one with a different philosophy behind it – it includes fascinating ideas I wouldn't have dreamt of, the only one I would add is the one where justice is about undoing the wrong done, taken to the extreme (ethically, or capitalistically). The ending is very much on point, too.
My first story of the new year had been “Goodnight, Melancholy” by Xia Jia, which edited history by giving Alan Turing a strangely anachronistic ELIZA-like Christopher to talk to in his later years, but only to frame to frame interesting philosophical questions on the emotional embodiment and connected non-verbal aspects of human communication and cognition. The story jumps between different time lines, to discuss several aspects of it, and has a long list of endnotes which I skipped.
As my New Year's Resolution, I decided to take up listening to my short stories again. Yesterday, I heard “Milla”, by Lorenzo Crescentini and Emanuela Valentini. This story of a lone human encountering a mysterious ghostly alien AI on a planet with an earth-like ecosystem delivers a heavy-handed, but heartfelt (and home-made) message against the boundless exploitation of Earth's resources. In that, it is quite different from other similar-premised stories I heard in Clarkesworld.
“Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty's Place Cafe” is yet a another really good piece by Naomi Kritzer. She so consistently wrote stuff I like, maybe I should seek out her longer fiction. This one is about what's important in life, and about accepting someone as your family instead of desperately looking for being accepted by your birth family
I don't get “The two ways of living” by Robert Reed. And by her comments, neither does Kate Baker, because in her comments she focuses on the uplift dog (and it's actually kept open whether it is one) and the inner dreams (where it is very much said that the main character does not dream during his hiatus).
September 16, I'm reading Jenny Blackford's #poem listing "Eleven Exhibits in a Better Natural History Museum, London"
Gotta say I'd want to see the dragon exhibit.
The story cared only occasionally about the rodent particularities, mostly it just needed something vaguely familiar to come after humanity for the three final sentences, and an (evolutionarily implausible) justification for the infanticide which some plot is built around. Still, overall not too bad.
“Rain Ship” by Chi Hui is interesting, but also awkward. It relies a lot on footnotes to tell, don't show, about the culture of the sentient rodents the story is about. Like, it tells is they have four fingers on each paw—and then uses the human convention of the raised middle finger? All the language is very human. Another example: The footnotes just apologize for using kilometers, instead of giving the reader an idea how this culture actually thinks. Meh. Maybe at least the story will be cool?
Geek of computer models; Consumer of speculative fiction; Armchair anthropologist through role playing games.
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