REVIEW SUMMARY: Three inventive stories from authors who are making an impression on the genre community top a solid issue of Clarkesworld.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The theme of revolution is examined through the eyes of a mother whose child is about to pay the price for speaking out, in the recollections of an old woman who may or may not have had her hand in sparking a revolt, and through a government sponsored clean up crew sent in to collect evidence after a bombing in New York City.
PROS: Great variety in style and presentation; common overall theme invites interesting comparison of stories; proven, award-nominated storytellers whose talent is evident; all content available to read free online.
CONS: Stories are weaker in comparison to recent releases from each author; an abrupt end lessens the impact of the third story.
BOTTOM LINE: The March 2013 issue of Clarkesworld stands out because of the talent showcased, including recent award winners and current nominees. Each of these authors has been prolific of late with stories published in a number of short fiction venues and the skill which makes them sought after is visible in each of these stories. An essay on the film Videodrome on its thirtieth anniversary, a conversation with debut novelist M.C. Planck, an essay on the “original” fairy tales and what today’s children can handle in their fiction and editor Neil Clarke’s exciting announcement round out a worthy edition of the magazine.
Aliette de Bodard returns readers to the universe of her Nebula-nominated stories “Immersion” and “On a Red Station, Drifting” to tell another family-centric story, this time focusing on a mother and the pressing weight of her daughter’s impending sentence for actions protesting the government. Minh Ha has three visits, three more moments in time in which to somehow connect with her daughter Sarah before she is sent to the harsh outer planet Cygnus with the rest of those convicted. De Bodard shines in creating interesting science fictional elements that sit enticingly in the background while drawing the reader’s focus to the intimacy of relationships. In this story the science fiction comes in the form of the V-Space, a virtual environment in which these last visits take place. This contrasts with another virtual space, The Hall of the Dead, where Minh Ha and others of her culture go to seek comfort and answers from their loved ones who have passed on. Sarah embodies the rebellious optimism of the young while her mother Minh Ha represents the inevitable aftermath of those who have been through struggles, and through war, and have learned to compromise for the sake of peace. Aliette de Bodard walks a fine line, never pushing the reader to see one side or the other as the “right” side, instead offering up the notion that, like family relationships, those between cultures and governments are complex and sometimes messy. As Sarah’s judgment day approaches, Minh Ha must come to terms with her own demons in an effort to impart something to her daughter that will help her survive life on Cygnus.
“The Last Survivor of the Great Sexbot Revolution“ by A.C. Wise
With such a title you could be forgiven if you were to go into the story with expectations of something comical, something a little bit naughty, or a combination thereof. Instead author A.C. Wise offers up an unexpectedly poignant piece that looks at the common science fictional theme of robot sentience through a conversation between a young man and the old woman who allegedly possesses the last remaining sexbot. This is the second time I have been exposed to Wise’s work and in each instance she has proven to be a poetic author, one whose sentence structure and word choices have an interesting, at times lyrical cadence. “The Last Survivor” offers up multiple explanations of what could be the “real” story of the Sexbot Revolution, giving rise to the suspicion that there may be truth embedded in each explanation. The story is told through the eyes of the protagonist as he breaks into the home of Alma May Anderson, ostensibly to see the last remaining sexbot. Alma May is an old woman but there is something about her eyes that speaks to this young man as she catches him mid-way through the window, leading his adventure of that night to be profoundly different than what he expected. Wise touches on several ideas here including a serious explanation of why it is not at all far-fetched to believe that robots would be created to be sexual partners.
“86, 87, 88, 89“ by Genevieve Valentine
The protagonist of Valentine’s story is a member of the Homeland Archive, sent into a devastated neighborhood in New York City to “recover evidence of terrorist activity preceding the Raids”. Details at the beginning of the story are sketchy, revealed layer by layer in the same way that layers of dust and rubble are sifted through in order to find the artifacts that are ostensibly offered as proof of an action taken against domestic terrorism. The story alternates between the first-person narrative and brief descriptions of pieces of evidence and in so doing maintains a level of mystery. Like any good shadowy government story suspicion and paranoia start to mount, leading characters to question who they can trust. Valentine’s is a near-future story with technology familiar to today, making it interesting how important all manner of paper factors into the work of the Homeland Archive. Genevieve Valentine is a very capable writer and the way in which she structures this story draws the reader slowly but steadily into the narrative. While some elements of the overall story are revealed, the story ends with some mysteries unsolved, which may be a weakness or a strength depending on the type of short stories one enjoys.
On the non-fiction front, Keith Phillips offers an interesting overview of David Cronenberg’s film Videodrome in the essay “Videodrome at Thirty”. In it he compares the future imagined by the film maker and the ways in which life has imitated art. Jeremy L.C. Jones interviews author M.C. Planck about his debut novel The Kassa Gambit and how author Jack Vance has influenced his writing.
Alethea Kontis’ essay “Another Word: Original Sin” examines the ways in which fairy tales have been presented over the years, at times offered in their darker versions and at others sanitized in the belief that they would be damaging to their intended audience. Kontis posits that today’s youth are likely to be able to handle the original versions given the stories they are exposed to by the entertainment industry today.
Finally, editor Neil Clarke discusses the future of Clarkesworld, which includes the recent announcement that editor Gardner Dozois has been brought on board to helm the reprint division. Beginning in April two reprint stories will accompany the three original works in each issue. The subscription drive continues with the hope of bringing on enough new readers that the magazine will be able to add an additional original fiction story each month.
Clarkesworld has garnered four short fiction nominations in this year’s Nebula Awards and it would not be surprising to see work from the magazine make its way onto this year’s Hugo ballot. I would encourage you to take advantage of the free offerings to check out the magazine for yourself, and if you like what you see, consider subscribing. What can I say, I’m selfish. I want another original story each issue.
The cover artist for this month’s issue is David Demaret, who has done work for Clarkesworld previously. It is very nicely done. When I look at it I am both intrigued enough to want be on that ship heading towards the action to see what is happening and frightened enough to think I’d want the ship to be headed the other direction, and fast.