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Short Fiction Friday: Clarkesworld Issue 81, June 2013

REVIEW SUMMARY: The latest issue of Clarkesworld features three original works of science fiction, two reprints and four non-fiction articles.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS:  Five solid science fictional stories examine cloning, life on the moons of Uranus, parallel-universe pest control, failing technology and one unenviable conundrum.

PROS:  No disappointments here; exciting storytelling; imaginative visions of the future; strong works of original fiction; high degree of accessibility.
CONS: While opinions will no doubt very, I find nothing of note to list as a con for this issue.
BOTTOM LINE: The June issue of Clarkesworld is full of enjoyment.  Each work of original fiction features a different perspective with characters that are accessible to the reader and plots that will leave the reader contemplating the options presented to the various protagonists.  The reprints are both strong choices which leave little question as to why editor Gardner Dozois chose them for the issue.  It was nice to read and compare five stories that are very clearly science fictional in nature.  While each story has interesting science fictional concepts, it is apparent in each case that the author set out to do more than just examine ideas by putting an emphasis on story.  Each story is available right now on the Clarkesworld website and the first two original fiction offerings have accompanying audio podcast versions which are linked to in the post that follows.

Original Fiction

The Urashima Effect” by E. Lily Yu

(Audio Podcast version)

Leo Aoki wakes from a cold sleep, disoriented and alone on a ship bound for the planet Ryugo-jo in the Alpha Lyrae system.  He has been under for three years, awakened as the ship gains proximity to its destination.  Aoki’s mission is to establish a small liveable base, his astrophysicist wife, Esther, to join him on a ship launched two years after Aoki’s.  In addition to necessities and entertainments, the ship contains recordings from family and friends, meant to assuage his loneliness. Esther’s recording begins with a story about a man named Urashima Taro and the rescue of a small turtle.  Leo rations this story, completing necessary tasks and engaging in other entertainments to make these moments last.  As Urashima’s tale unfolds, the reader is shown how the stories of these two men intersect, and E. Lily Yu leaves her protagonist with a decision that will have the reader contemplating the options for days to come.

E. Lily Yu has crafted a story that focuses on a man in isolation which manages to beautifully convey the importance of relationships and the costs that must be paid in the name of progress.

This is Why We Jump” by Jacob Clifton

(Audio Podcast version)

The futuristic rhythm of Clifton’s prose is told through the poetic voice of his protagonist, an unnamed young lady living in the interstitial places of a planet-shaped city.  The setting of the story is Oberon, a moon of Uranus, that has been mined so heavily that all that remains is the world constructed around it.   The majority of people live on the surface but the deep places of this world are also occupied. Clifton riffs off this theme of living between the spaces and in doing so does a number of things well: he creates an interesting world, populates it with various cultural groups who evolved as Oberon itself evolved, and creates a protagonist who is as much a mystery to the reader as she is to the people she comes in contact with in the story.

I found it telling that the author bio indicates that this story was written for author Cathyrnne M. Valente, because Valente writes in a voice that is uniquely her own, a voice which at times requires careful reading in order to grasp every nuance of her complex storytelling.  I was thinking of Valente as I read Clifton’s story, and while he pays homage to Valente’s work, Clifton’s voice is his own. This is story with layers that reward a close examination, but the story is also quite accessible in large part because Clifton manages to create a protagonist whose experiences may be wholly unlike our own but whose wants, needs and desires…and whose voice…finds a kinship within us all.

Free-Fall” by Graham Templeton

In a space elevator stalled thirty meters above the Earth’s surface, a reporter and three scientists await their expected rescue and consider their options if a rescue doesn’t come.  Templeton’s story is told from the viewpoint of the reporter, an interesting choice as the reporter stays entirely in character throughout the tale.  As a career observer, the reporter first gives the reader a thumbnail sketch of each of his companions and then documents the unplanned psychological experiment unraveling before his eyes.  This alone would have made for an interesting story, but Templeton adds to the story’s complexity by unveiling a future in which intelligent, well-educated, highly-skilled adults are finding it tough to find work and are suffering the anxiety commensurate with their situations. Each member of the group must make an ultimate decision, including the reporter whose need to document wars with feelings of self-loathing.   I had an interesting reaction to the ending of “Free-Fall”.  It went exactly where I hoped that it would go and at the same time I found myself wondering how I would have felt had Templeton taken the story on one of many alternate paths.


Mongoose” by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

In Monette and Bear’s creatively imagined future, spaceships named after famous people from Earth’s history provide the setting in which their protagonists, Israel Irizarry and his Cheshire-cat, Mongoose, work to rid the crafts of transdimensional alien pests.  These authors play off literary themes as well with aliens creatures whose names are derived from classic works of literature.  In Irizarry’s job, catching the problem at the right time is the primary factor in a successful outcome.  As is common in the chain of life, small prey attracts larger predators, and when a rift in space allows the relatively harmless but annoying toves in, more deadly creatures are sure to follow, tearing open the rift to let even more frightening things come through to this world.   This is one of the longer short stories in the issue and the length allows the authors to combine some nice character development with their world-building to tell a satisfying story.

Dead Men Walking” by Paul J. McAuley

Roy Bruce–not his given name–is dying under a dome on a moon of Uranus, recording his final words in the hopes that it will be of help to the authorities that find his lifeless body.  For the past eight and a half years Bruce has been a prison guard for TPA Facility 898, hiding his true identity to get the only thing he really wants–a life.  A heinous murder committed on the grounds of the facility awaken old memories, leaving Roy Bruce to believe that he recognizes the killer’s signature, and in so doing sees the end of  his own hidden existence.

McAuley’s story is set in the same universe as his Quiet War novels and while the story works very well on its own I suspect that it would hold more meaning for readers familiar with that universe.  Paul McAuley tells a compelling story that may be slightly hampered by the fact that you know about the protagonist’s end before his story even begins.

And there you have it, five really good stories that make the June 2013 issue of Clarkesworld one that is well worth your time.  In addition to great new and previously released fiction James Heller examines the use of the locomotive in science fiction literature, Jeremy L.C. Jones has a conversation with author Susan Palwick regarding the subjects of grief and loss, author Daniel Abraham writes about technology and self-publishing and editor Neil Clarke weighs in on self-publishing and respect.

Before signing off and letting you get to your weekend (which will hopefully include some time reading short fiction…hint, hint), allow me to extend my congratulations to Neil Clarke, to Clarkesworld magazine, and to author Aliette de Bodard for the recent Nebula Award win that de Bodard received for her short story, “Immersion”.  It is a well-deserved win for a fantastic story.

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