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Short Fiction Friday: Clarkesworld #77

REVIEW SUMMARY: A snowball’s chance journey to save a dying Earth, unwelcome visitors from “out there”, and a space salvage trip gone horribly wrong: all this and more awaits you in the February 2013 issue of the Hugo Award-winning Clarkesworld magazine.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: This issue contains three science fiction short stories, an interview with author Karen Lord, an essay on science fiction and social media, an essay on moral judgment in reading/writing and Neil Clarke’s Editor’s Desk column.

PROS: Creativity evident in each story; variety of science fictional and suspense elements; nonfiction articles are well written and offer compelling film and book suggestions.
CONS: One story is less successful in its overall execution; nonfiction articles could potentially lighten your wallet.
BOTTOM LINE: This is my first experience with Clarkesworld magazine and reading it left me very pleased that I subscribed. In my opinion the first story is the strongest but all three stories were vastly different from one another offering a variety that I suspect will result in wildly different opinions based on reader preference.

Each work of fiction and nonfiction is available on the Clarkesworld website by clicking on the highlighted link.


In “Gravity” author Erzebet Yellowboy takes us to a future Earth that is ice-covered and dying. In what will perhaps be a futile effort at prolonging the human race, Mair has joined with four other brave souls on a journey to the sun, leaving behind her dying mother who claims to remember an Earth of trees and flowers. The tone of “Gravity” is not one of pulp fiction adventure; the grim realities of manned space flight are ever present in Mair’s narrative. Allow me to commit the faux pas of comparing one story to another in describing Yellowboy’s tale as what the film Sunshine could have been had it not sacrificed gravitas for late-stage action-movie thrills.*

[An audio version of “Gravity” can be accessed here.]

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s “The Wanderers” could not be more timely, coming as it does so soon after the grim events of Sandy Hook. As we’ve long suspected, we are not alone. Our message got out. They are on their way. Unfortunately the message received is not what we meant to send. In monitoring our planet this group of visitors has interpreted our news feeds and movies as similar forms of entertainment, engendering feelings of kinship that has drawn them to our world. Contemplating the ways in which an alien race might interpret actual violence caught on film and violent entertainment shown in the same format makes for an interesting idea that could easily become heavy-handed in its delivery. Stufflebeam avoids crossing that line while taking the story in an unexpected direction. On occasion “The Wanderers” feels as if it is trying too hard to be clever with its reference points, nevertheless the truly horrifying implications of the story are handled with skill.

“Vacant Spaces” follows the older Shepard and his younger counterpart Caine as they journey into the deep reaches of space to retrieve a derelict ship. The story opens with a method of space travel that immediately makes one question the sanity of any person willing to take that risk. Things are off-kilter from the moment they arrive and a sense dread begins to creep into the picture. It is not hard to imagine that a person (or two) could feel terrifyingly alone out in the vast emptiness of the universe. Author Greg Kurzawa takes that feeling and projects it inside the confines of a small ship with results worthy of a good horror flick. “Vacant Spaces” is the longest of the three fiction offerings in this issue which is ironic given that I felt it lacked the space needed to better flesh out some of Kurzawa’s more creative story elements.


In The Great Leap Sideways: SF and Social Media Mark Cole examines the current state of social media and how science fiction in films, literature and gaming has changed or could change as a reflection of the new connected world in which we live. This essay should come with a warning that it references games, books and movies that you may feel compelled to spend your time and money on.

Always a New World: A Conversation with Karen Lord is an interview conducted by Jeremy L.C. Jones in which he talks with Lord about her novel The Best of All Possible Worlds due out next week. The novel has already received a great deal of critical acclaim. This is a novel I plan to read and I was initially concerned that the direction of the interview was leading to spoilers, but this was not the case. In discussing her inspirations and writing style Karen Lord herself points out that she does not want to spoil the experience for readers.

In Another Word:Reading and Writing and Moral Judgment author Daniel Abraham talks about the dangers of “morally hygienic fiction”, among other things related to the variety of books we enjoy reading and that authors aspire to write. It was a compelling argument that could have only been better with more space devoted to further exploration of the subject.

And to close editor Neil Clarke updates readers on his improving health [congrats Neil], shares the results of the Clarkesworld Reader’s Survey picking the best story and cover art of 2012, and tells readers how they can have a hand in increasing the number of fiction contributions in future issues.

The Clarkesworld: Year Three anthology is now available in ebook format with a trade paperback version due out later this month.

Cover art for Issue 77 is by 36-year-old Chinese artist Yang Xueguo.

*[Confession: I liked Sunshine]

10 Comments on Short Fiction Friday: Clarkesworld #77

  1. Congrats on the new column, and great job on this one. I am glad that there are strong short fiction publishers, but every time I subscribe they sit unread. You’ve created a motivational system here for you to keep up, and I’m jealous for the great stories you’ll read in that.

    • Thanks Tim. I have had that same motivational issue in the past but when I bought the Kindle in Dec. it was for the purpose of keeping up with these and having a forum (and deadline) helps tremendously with the motivation. And the payoff is that there is so much great short fiction being produced right now. It is, in my opinion, a real Golden Age and I want to do my small part to toll the bell.

  2. New column. Congratulations. There are some good magazines who have made the leap into the digital age (Clarkesworld and Apex in particular)

  3. Well done Carl. A really good article. Makes me think I should start subscribing!
    Lynn 😀

  4. Very nice, in-depth review. I will go check out these short stories.

    I liked Sunshine too.

  5. You’re a brave man, Carl. Keeping up with short fiction is a daunting task; I tried for about two weeks last year and gave up. Maybe if I follow your column I’ll get through 1/1000th of the worthy stuff this year. For now, that Dan Abraham article is threatening to distract me from work.

    • I’m certainly going to try, and yes, it is a daunting task even with the stuff I’ve committed myself to. Then every time I turn around I get other great short story recommendations and I don’t know how I’ll ever keep up. 🙂

      That Abraham article is indeed a good one. Now get back to work!

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