REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday looks at the three works of original fiction in the March 2014 issue of Clarkesworld.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Space travel, war, and the variable nature of ghosts are examined in the original shorts in the latest issue of Clarkesworld.
PROS: Fans of space-faring science fiction will find much to like in two of the featured short stories; intriguing look at humanity from the point of view of an advanced alien race; one story provides the opportunity for examining folklore/mythological aspects of the Japanese culture.
CONS: One story ends slightly more abruptly than it should have; restrictions of short story format inhibits the effectiveness of one offering.
BOTTOM LINE: One of the greatest things about a foray into current offerings in the short fiction worlds of science fiction and fantasy is that you truly have no idea what you are going to get. Forrest Gump’s “box of chocolates” reference is so apt here. Whether that chocolate contains a surprisingly delightful filling…or coconut (no offense to you coconut lovers out there)…you always get a little bit of chocolate in the mix. So it is with the original works in this issue of Clarkesworld. They may or may not turn out to be to your taste, but they all have something going for them that makes them worth reading. For those who lean towards science fiction, two of the three featured stories are far into the science fictional spectrum. The other story uses fantastical elements of the Japanese culture to examine the stress and pressure of growing up. Links are provided. Give them a taste.
“Morrigan in the Sunglare” by Seth Dickinson
Noemi Laporte, call sign “Morrigan”, is a pilot at war who finds herself slowly being irradiated, along with her Captain and fellow crew, after an uncharted jump out of a battle zone puts them too close to the sun. As Laporte and Captain Simms play a childhood game to pass the time, Laporte looks back over the events that led her to her position in this outer space war with her fellow human beings.
Author Seth Dickinson examines the cold realities of battle through the recollections of Noemi Laporte and in so doing provides a variety of angles from which to look at the costs of war. Laporte is an engaging narrator. Her love for her Captain and her will to live, coupled with her skill at killing her enemy, allows the reader to have an emotional connection to the story while at the same time appreciating the future that Dickinson has imagined.
While the ending leaves the reader with some larger questions about the future, it also ends in a way that satisfies in regards to its primary characters.
“Human Strandings and the Role of the Xenobiologist” by Thoraiya Dyer
In Earth’s future travel offworld is not only possible, but it is an option undertaken by those wishing to leave their troubles behind, despite the risks involved. Kelly is a young girl whose family finds themselves in such a place, and so, despite her young age, she is packed in a freezer…inexpensive cryo…as a stowaway heading towards a new life. She awakens as the result of an accident to find herself in a world that she perceives as pure white, hearing the vocalizations of beings she cannot see nor understand.
Thoraiya Dyer’s story is split between the point of view of Kelly and of the aliens that find her when she crash-lands on their planet. Supplementing the story are excerpts from two important alien field guides on how to deal with human strandings. In a relatively short space Dyer paints the picture of a technologically advanced, yet troubled, Earth and a race of aliens who would like these human ships to stop crashing uninvited into their world. It is a story with a dark undercurrent that manages to bring in some humorous elements. “Human Strandings and the Role of the Xenobiologist” has an intriguing set up and execution, though I found myself wishing the ending had been drawn out a tad longer.
“Suteta Mono de wa Nai (Not Easily Thrown Away)” by Juliette Wade
A young Japanese girl, stressed about impending entrance examines, begins to hear voices arguing over her fate. Kitano Naoko lives with a grandmother who appears to care deeply for her, and yet Kitano is so wrapped up in her own concerns that she simply sees a person trying to control her. As the voices get more insistent, Kitano will find herself in a most dangerous place–a proverbial fork in the road with life-changing implications down each path.
Author Juliette Wade has woven her passion for Japanese language and culture, coupled with her multiple experiences of living in Japan, into her writing. In “Suteta Mono de wa Nai”, the folklore and mythology of Japan is front and center in the experiences of Kitano Naoko, and are incorporated in such a way that the reader is meant to gain understand contextually. The short story format hampers this experience in not allowing for that context to be built over time, thus lessening the overall impact of the story.
I hope you’ll take the time to check out the March 2014 issue of Clarkesworld. In addition to these three works of original fiction, Issue 90 contains works of classic fiction by Mary Rosenblum (“The Egg Man“) and Ursula K. Le Guin (“Mountain Ways“). There are also nonfiction articles, including a conversation with James L. Cambias, whose new novel, A Darkling Sea, is generating positive reviews.
The wonderful robot art featured on the cover is by artist Matt Dixon. Dixon is a freelance illustrator out of the UK. Check out his site for more examples of his work.