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Short Fiction Friday: Clarkesworld Issue 82, July 2013

REVIEW SUMMARY: The latest issue of Clarkesworld features three original works of science fiction (reviewed), two reprints (not-reviewed), two author interviews, an essay on B-movies and an exploration of the way in which scientists aided the Allies in World War II.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A plausible near-future look at scientific exploration on the moon, messages from a generation ship that contain more than the relay station bargained for, and relationships with drones! Issue #82 of Clarkesworld mixes the scientific with the scary and adds a dash of sex with its three original stories.

PROS: Variety is the spice of life, and the feel of each of the original stories is decidedly different; one offering unveils a vision of what living on a moon-based research station might be like that does not feel fictional; nonfiction articles are well worth reading.
CONS: The three original stories all seemed to lack a specific “something” that prevented them from being memorable.  One story reads like the start of a bigger tale.
BOTTOM LINE: It is difficult to avoid comparing the latest issue of a SFF magazine to the previous one, a task that was made more difficult with this issue of Clarkesworld because of similarities of the first story in this issue and the outstanding “The Urashima Effect” by E. Lily Yu in last month’s magazine.  While I did not actively dislike any of the original stories in this issue, they each ultimately fell flat for me in a different way.  There is no lack of talent in the three authors reviewed, however the stories did not engender a deep emotional connection.  The nonfiction articles, on the other hand, are outstanding and it is recommended that you read the stories and form your own opinions (I don’t mind being told I’m wrong, and why) and that you stick around for the author interviews and the essays.  Finally, if you normally skip over the Editor’s Desk, this is not the time to do so.  Neil Clarke is about to celebrate the year anniversary of his brush with death and his thoughts on that experience, and how he has used it to motivate his work over the past year, is a must-read.

Original Fiction

Pockets Full of Stones” by Varja Chandrasekera
(Audio Podcast)

Dike and Hadil occupy a relay station orbiting Earth. They are tasked with receiving and passing messages back and forth between Earth and the generation ship Cay Cuc as it takes its twenty-thousand passengers on a journey to a new world. Unbeknownst to her superiors, Dike has been communicating surreptitiously with her grandfather, Rais, a passenger on the Cay Cuc. Time is passing differently for Dike and Rais, with Rais now being a decade younger than his granddaughter. Rais is wanting Dike to petition the Earth government to allow for the Cay Cuc passengers to be able to communicate with their progeny, while at the same time dropping not so subtle hints that Dike should be having children. The latest message from Rais mentions that the Cay Cuc picked up a neutrino transmission and there is talk of first contact. Rais has attached an update. As Dike and Hadil wait to come into alignment with their station on Earth, they discover something unexpected that has rode in on the latest transmission.

“Pockets Full of Stones” packs some really interesting visuals and will make the math-whiz, science geeks put on their thinking caps as it describes the time-delays between the main protagonists and Dike’s grandfather on the generation ship. While the ending left more questions than it did answers, it makes for a suspense-filled experience.

I Tell Thee All, I Can No More” by Sunny Moraine

In an indeterminate future, drones not only watch over people but also engage in sexual relations with them. The narrator of Morraine’s story describes how this is a little talked about activity and the isolation of this, coupled with sex with an uncommunicative partner, begins to wear on her. You do not fall in love with a drone. You do not attempt to have a relationship with a drone. And yet Morraine’s narrator finds herself doing the things you just don’t do.

The story begins with a more graphic, reckless tone regarding the sexual aspects of the story and then gradually becomes more of a psychological examination. This change gave the story a feeling as if it was unsure what sort of story it was trying to be. The technical aspects of the story are done well, however the lack of an emotional connection to the protagonist made it difficult to engage with the story in a meaningful way.

Across the Terminator” by David Tellerman

In the Shackleton Crater, on the surface of the moon, the men occupying an American base are forced by circumstances to do the unthinkable–cross the crater to enlist the help of their Chinese counterparts occupying a similar base. America and China are in an escalating Cold War and a mysterious discovery coupled with the realization that the people occupying these bases have been forgotten, sparks a peace accord between the moon-based members of these nations. The story focuses on two main protagonists, an American named Hank and a Chinese woman named Liang Lei. Tallerman fleshes out the incidental American characters to a lesser degree, but in doing so establishes their personalities and paints a picture of life in a small station on the moon.

Tallerman’s science and his descriptions of the conditions in which these men and women live are plausible and give the story a near-future vibe. Suspense builds slowly, keeping the reader interested in events as they unfold. My one criticism is that this story felt like the beginning chapter of something larger. There is a resolution, of sorts, brought about by Hank, however the reader is left wanting more. If David Tallerman expanded this story I would be interested in finding out what happened to these characters as well as discovering the consequences of Hank’s actions at the end of the tale.

Not reviewed are two reprint classics: “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm” by Daryl Gregory and “The Dust Assassin” by Ian McDonald.


Spock’s Pops: How Operation Research became Wartime Magic!” by Jason S. Ridler

You can practically hear Leonard Nimoy voicing his trademark Spock phrase, “fascinating!”, as Ridler describes the form of applied science, called Operational Research (OR), which emerged during World War II. OR was a critical part of the Allies’ success against the Axis powers. Ridler describes these very logical scientists and the various ways in which they made vital contributions. Ridler has done his research and all I can do is echo the Enterprise’s science officer.

Another Word: My Own Private B-Movie” by Genevieve Valentine

“To fall in love with B-movies is to search for the sublime.” Author Valentine waxes poetic about the specific pleasure of the B-movie, at least to those who discover the right one, at the right time, to not only fall in love with a particular film but to develop an appreciation for what is considered a “lesser” art form. Reading Valentine’s article is like taking a personal nostalgia trip. Anyone up for a late-night viewing of The Warriors?

Jeremy L.C. Jones offers conversations with authors J.M. McDermott and Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.

Editor’s Desk: Taking Back July 12th” by Neil Clarke

Editor Neil Clarke recalls his near-death experience last July 12th and the inspiration he has taken from a renewed lease on life. It was Clarke’s story and his efforts to expand the readership of Clarkesworld that gave me the impetus to subscribe, and it has been a pleasure to be a part of the Clarkesworld readership month after month. This event also moved Neil Clarke to edit his first non-Clarkesworld anthology, an original fiction anthology with a cyborg theme entitled Upgraded. Authors in the anthology include: Elizabeth Bear, Helena Bell, Tobias S. Buckell, Xia Jia, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, Chen Qiufan, Robert Reed, E. Catherine Tobler, Genevieve Valentine, Peter Watts and E. Lily Yu. The project was set up to be funded by Kickstarter and is now fully-funded, however you have until July 12th to get in on one of the many fun backing options. The anthology will also include an original cover illustration by artist Julie Dillon. Head on over to Kickstarter to be a part of this project.

The cover illustration of this issue of Clarkesworld is entitled “The Land of Lost Dreams“, by artist Dan Osborne. Check out his website for more examples of his work.

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