Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #105

Well, not quite as huge an issue of Clarkesworld as last month, but still a very good one with four pieces of original fiction and two pieces of nonfiction that I'm looking at. There is more nonfiction and some reprints as well, and certainly give those a look as well, but there's only so much I can get to in a month so yeah. Really this is an interesting issue, with a lot connecting to a sort of alien presence. In a few of the stories this is stronger than others, but in at least three there is a human character connecting with something decidedly not human, and in the last there is an altered human connecting to a alien realty, to an altered space beyond c. Lots to read and enjoy and some very insightful nonfiction as well. With spreadsheets! And if my profile picture is anything to go by, that might be something I enjoy. So yes, to the reviews!

Art by Liu Junwei


"Somewhere I Have Never Traveled (Third Sound Remix)" by E. Catherine Tobler (4532 words)

Here is a rather lyric and slightly surreal story of a woman working on a station orbiting Jupiter that collects liquid helium to be shipped back to Earth. Only something in the helium, in the storms of Jupiter, are calling out to her, to Vasquez. Something that is awake and just now finding its way, something curious and that sees humans as something to explore. To meet. Vasquez hears the voice from the clouds and it haunts her. She has visions that others think are dreams and she wonders what to do. She is drawn to these visions, to the creatures that are wholly alien, wholly unknown, creatures that rise up out of the dark and frozen liquids of the universe, on alien moons. It's an interesting and beautiful story but one that's a bit difficult to figure out at times. To me it's a story about contact, about meeting something that is entirely different and new. In some ways the story is that of a fisherman catching a magic fish that can speak. Not one that can grant wishes, but that acts as a sort of wake up call. If such creatures are being caught up in the nets, then maybe what the fisherman (or helium collectors) are doing is wrong. Maybe there will come a time that they will have to reckon what they have done. It's a nice story, with a compelling cast. So check that out.

"Asymptotic" by Andy Dudak (7507 words)

Nuhane is an officer with the Collection Bureau, a group of police-like people who go around putting people into a sort of suspended state for their violations of space-time that come from crossing the speed of light. For all that he is a part of this power, though, Nuhane is also of a modified race, the Fey, which are small and claustrophobic and really well suited for space travel. He's also addicted to violating space-time, the crime that he punishes others for. And through his work in the Bureau he comes on the trail of a person who seems to have big plans for the universe. The story is dense and took me a bit to really get into because of the various things involved, but it's at its core about Nuhane's relationship with the universe, with the open and the closed. He longs for release beyond c because it's open and yet not terrifying. Yet he is ashamed of this want, ashamed that he likes the closed system, that he works for the Bureau, that he would choose a strict government after he has seen the horrors of a Fey concentration camp. The psychology involved with the story is the real attraction, though there are some big, weird ideas played with. In this world everyone who violates accrues a debt to space-time. Only the person that Nuhane is chasing has found something new. Something that could break everything. An interesting story, though perhaps not for those unwilling to wade into some deep waters.

"This Wanderer, in the Dark of the Year" by Kris Millering (3669 words)

Well shit, that's a story. About a war correspondent who is taken prisoner in Hungary by militants who have found an alien that arrived in a crashed alien ship, this one is about war and humans' ability to adapt. At first that statement can seem like it's saying something about how Audra is able to adapt to the alien entity, that she is able to be changed by it to be able to communicate, to bond with it. But the alien in this case is only the logical conclusion to the direction of her life. As a war correspondent she already had the greater power to adapt. To war, to conflict. She is a creature of war, shaped by it but able to keep going. Not without complication, as her shattered relationship with her girlfriend proves, but that's because she is a person shaped by war and peace doesn't seem to suit her as well. Or at least it's more difficult for her to deal with. Which seems to be why, when she is exposed to the alien, she's the one to succeed where others die. She is able to adapt. She changes, and by doing so she bonds with the alien who is just as lost as she is. Both are drawn into the conflict that they have no real stake in except now their lives. She adapts, and with the alien manages an escape of sorts, but only really to realization that it is her ability to withstand the horrors of war that allows her to withstand the alien psyche acting on her now. A fascinating and dark story, it still reveals some hard truths about humanity and the pull of war. Solid work.

"Forestspirit, Forestspirit" by Bogi Takács (3697 words)

This is a cute and rather sweet way to end out the fiction of the issue, a story about a shapeshifting creature originally designed for war who joins forces with a young boy to save a forest from destruction. The shapeshifter, Gabi, lives in the forest followed an end to the war that created them, and flits about observing the humans that venture in to collect mushrooms and other things. Then a young boy arrives to say that the computer program that runs the human government has marked the forest to be razed. More attached than they thought to the forest, Gabi decides to help the boy stop what has been set in motion. And yet they refuse to use violence. This is a great story for how it goes about solving a problem without resorting to the easy answers. The "villain" is an impersonal computer program, not some evil force. The destruction of the forest is not for greed or malice. It's just been decided. So Gabi and their new friend go about figuring out how the computer program recognizes what is animal and what is plant and come up with an interesting way of beating the program and saving the forest. It's so unexpected, because these kinds of stories are so rare, where there is a problem and it is solved with inventive strategies and no one is hurt. Some might say that the stakes of the story are low, but they aren't. It's still the destruction of a forest that is prevented. Some might say the solution is too easy, because it doesn't cost human life or blood, but it's not. The solution takes invention and testing and strategy and understanding what's being fought against. It's a nice story that defies what I was expecting to find in it. A nice read that's just really pleasant to read. Indeed!


"Another Word: The Vaguely Picaresque Adventure of a New Writer" by John Chu

This is a fascinating article about translation partly and about things seeming to work out by being in the right place at the right time. Which is unfair of me to say because it's not really about that at all. It can seem to be because the anecdotes are basically about being somewhere and being asked to do something and it working out. But it's the ending that gives these events a great context. Because it's not really being anywhere. It's about pursuing what you want to be doing. It's about trying. Basically, it's saying that when you are engaged in what you want to be doing, when you are putting in the good work, that the good results tend to flow from that. Not that it works out for everyone, not that it can or should work for everyone. But definitely it's about being out there trying. Trying because you love what you do. Trying because you want to contribute in some way. And as that happens, finding that you might just find yourself in a space to do just that. It's definitely not the specific advice in the piece (not the stuff about translation, though it is neat and a great read) that will help a great deal of people. Instead, it is the advice to do what you love and make that your first priority and how things can sometimes shape themselves around that. Work hard, work well, and that becomes its own reward. But maybe not the only reward. So yeah, good times!

"Editor's Desk: Once Again Down the Rabbit Hole" by Neil Clarke

 Spreadsheets! Oh my glob people who know me know that I like me some raw data to look at and then seeing it translated into charts and graphs is like porn to me. I mean, not in a weird way or anything, but I just get super pumped to see the data. And especially when it comes to writing influences and such, because I see that as such a huge part of what makes a writer and what makes a reader. The ways that people allow what is popular to shape them, the way that others find other sources to get inspiration from. It doesn't surprise me who appears on those lists, but there is still a small disappointment at how similar a lot of the lists can be. A lot of authors who would not qualify for the K. Tempest Bradford Challenge (which points to maybe that challenge being, I don't know, important). Again, not surprising but amazing that it's there in data form. I want to hug that data and then talk books with it. I kind of love to see what everything looks like in such a context. I am actually really interested to know how different review sites work with that. Not for novels, but for short stories. In my experience, short fiction reviewers are not really collected. And how to do it, when there are no scores. But then, most places only pick a few stories a month to look at. Imagine having numbers on that. Imagine! But, ahem, that's sort of beside the point, and I'm getting lost down a Rabbit Hole of statistics now and I will stop. This is a great editorial and you should read it. That is all.

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