Thursday, November 12, 2020

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #170

Art by Arjun Amky
Seven new stories from Clarkesworld weave a lot around sentience. Intelligence. Beings who are not human. Or not quite. Robots, AI, stars, even altered humans--the stories explore how these beings relate to the people who created them, or imprisoned them, or both. Some find ways to break free. Some find ways to cooperation. Some find ways to domination. Whatever the case, the issue hits on these ideas again and again, building up a rather thematically tight issue that looks at what it means to be alive and sentient, and explores how humans treat those they might not want to recognize as fully “people.” To the reviews!


“The Land of Eternal Jackfruits” by Rupsa Dey (4425 words)

No Spoilers: Chingri is a doctor who studies programmed consciousnesses. A kind of AI psychologist, and a good one, often called out to question and speak to AI who have been deemed a threat, who need to be talked down, or convinced that it might be time to accept deletion. She’s also the caretaker of her elderly grandmother, Tham, who lives with her in their ancestral home, in a future where humans and AI coexist, where climate change has ravaged much of the world. But where a single jackfruit tree has survived from the time that Tham was a little girl thanks to the stewardship of their family and the resilience of one of their early AI assistants. It’s a story of longing, a story about the value and importance of the past, and on the present, for the sake of the future.
Keywords: AIs, Fruit, Trees, Water, Psychology, Family
Review: I love the way this story deals with time, with the flow, finding these different connections between the past and the present and the future. All with their roots in the scarcity of the time that Tham was a little girl. The time when the jackfruit tree was planted. The time when Teipi, the AI gardener, ran away. From those things two very different lines began. On the one side, the perseverance of Tham’s family, the eventual birth of Chingri and the blossoming of her work. From the other, the prospect that Teipi might have gone underground, might have been spending the last decades killing and devouring other AI, slowly accumulating quite the body count in their quest to survive. Both things are linked, and it comes down to Chingri to make the connection, to see the messy realities of history and the lessons that are there, waiting just beneath the surface. For me, the story captures this rather bittersweet moment. All the strength and pride that this family has taken to grow its tree, to protect it, to nurture it so that the future generations wouldn’t have to be hungry. But also the truth of what that cost, and who was lost in the process, and all the pain and the grief that have come of it. It’s about growth, and progress, but also about the beauty of the past and the way those roots, planted in soil that stretches back decades and centuries, grows through the present and reaches with its branches into the future. All from the same seeds that, if we’re not careful, might spread some of the same corruptions and rot that helped the tree to grow in the first place. It’s a complex piece with a slow, thoughtful pacing and an emotional, powerful ending. A great read!

“Death Is for Those Who Die” by Jana Bianchi (3928 words)

No Spoilers: Jan is over a hundred years old and getting towards the end of her life. She’s assisted by a syncle, an AI caregiver who becomes their friend, their family. Jan’s life is full of warmth, memories, stories, pictures. She tattoos herself, though the ones she got when she was just old enough to have begun to fade. And the piece really looks at the relationship between Jan and her syncle, Diadorim. How Diadorim grows and feels, how ze approaches the realities of Jan’s mortality. How both of them end up approaching it, really, as Jan has spent most of her life kind of denying the reality of death, thinking that it could be a problem to be solved. And learning the hard way, the inevitable way, that humans aren’t there yet, and might never be. It’s a wrenching, heartbreaking tale that manages to be heartwarming at the same time.
Keywords: Tattoos, AIs, Caregiving, CW- End of Life Care, Family
Review: The relationship between Jan and Dor (Diadorim) is wonderful, and I love the way that in some ways they simultaneously are and are not at the center of each other’s worlds. Like, on one level they might be seen as employer and employee. Dor is the caregiver, is someone who might not “really” feel (if you believe people who think that syncles don’t truly feel, merely imitate feeling). Ze might not care at all about Jan. And Jan might care little for Dor, might think of zir like a tool, like a part of the house. Their relationship can be professional at times, but far more often it’s not. Far more often both of them rely on each other for so much. For companionship, for stories, for learning, for love and warmth. Dor studeies Jan and sees to her needs but more than that ze learns more what it is to be human through Jan. Learns the contradictions that sit at the heart of people, the way that they can be attracted to pain. A pain that reminds them that they are alive. And no surprise then, or at least no coincidence, that Dor means pain in Portuguese, that Diadorim is a play on words that can’t really be translated. But that comes through in the way that they care about each other, the way that Dor falls apart when Jan’s time finally comes. The way that Jan, faced with the end of her life, decides to talk to Dor instead of her family. Because that relationship is so important, so foundational. And it’s a wonderful piece, devastating in all the best ways, and not gonna lie you might need to prepare to cry a little on this one because shit. It’s so good, so real, so raw, so full of yearning and the reality of death and ahhh, just go read it. It’s a fantastic story!

“To Sail the Black” by A.C. Wise (8116 words)

No Spoilers: Antimony Jones is the captain of a pirate ship that flies with a sleeping star at its heart and ghosts of former crew members as its ammunition. Everyone on board has pledged their lives, and deaths, to the ship, and it’s a rather striking thing to behold. More striking, though, is the murder that turns up in the ship’s star chamber, and the quickly escalating series of events that lead Antimony to a number of revelations. About her crew. About the ghosts on the ship. About how she came to be captain, when the former captain seemed to hate her guts. And how, in a larger sense, there came to be a start at the heart of the ship, and what that really means. It’s a fun, romping story, with plenty of booze, swearing, and general pirate hijinks mixed with a great sci fi aesthetic and story about fate and freedom.
Keywords: Ghosts, Pirates, Space, Ships, Stars, Bargains
Review: This is a fun story, one that carries a great flow and voice as Antimony is completely in her element as captain of a pirate ship. She’s gruff, she’s ruthless, and she’s not one to be questioned. Unfortunately, she’s also not one who really thinks things too far in advance. If she was, she probably wouldn’t be a pirate. There’s something about the romance of it that she’s drawn to, and for her that means a kind of magic, one that hasn’t completely gone away despite the decidedly unromantic parts about being a pirate captain. Like the ritualistic murder that happens in the star chamber. And the double cross at the hands of her would-be clients. And the ghosts keeping secrets from her. But still, she got into the whole mess because she was drawn to the stories about sentient stars, about flying through space with a hope and a prayer and someone else’s coins in your pocket. And it’s ultimately that which saves her, too, despite everything. Despite the way the ghosts around her are trying to keep the truth from her, trying to accomplish something without her knowing. Despite her own style of being captain which has been to let no one close, to have no real friends. Except...except that she loves her ship, which means she loves the star that is its heart. Which means that when she learns that it’s not as lifeless as she’s been led to believe...well, she has to do something. And remember about the whole not thinking too far ahead? And that’s really what makes it fun, that rush that she brings to the adventure, that way she has of not really second-guessing herself. She embraces things whole, and it makes for a story heavy on action, light on hesitation. It makes for a dramatic, explosive, rushing climax that she’s probably not supposed to walk away from. But she does. And it’s a thoroughly entertaining, wonderfully imagined, beautifully rendered story about the allure of freedom, and the illusion of fate. A fantastic read!

“Lost in Darkness and Distance” by Clara Madrigano (11798 words)

No Spoilers: Mia is a part of a family who have been invited down to a Caribbean island to take part in a kind of reunion. It’s Mia, her sister DD, brother Gray (along with sister-in-law Marua and twin nieces), and her parents, all going to visit her aunt and uncle. And her cousin, Charlie. Her cousin, who died when they were both eighteen. The piece is loaded, the situation complicated by the impact his death has had on their family. The mark of his ghost. The story follows what happens when the reunion takes place, what it means for all the family members, and, perhaps more importantly, what it means for Charlie himself. Because the rules of the island, of this procedure, are rather strict, and make for a complex and rather rending series of events.
Keywords: Family, Clones, Music, Music, Loss
Review: Nothing about the story is easy and I love the weight of it. The way that the characters are all sort of pulling the wake of this decision that has been made in their absence. That their cousin will be resurrected. For Mia, this is an incredibly complicated thing because of how he died and how she took it. Not just the guilt she’s felt, but that it’s guilt she’s largely faced and lived with. For all of them, this is the ripping open of old wounds. Old hurts. And it’s done in a way that feels to me like the aunt and uncle want it to heal them instead. Want to bring the family together again. To restore this balance that had been shaken loose. And yeah, it’s an emotionally impacting story, one that aims right for the feels and connects. The dynamic within Mia’s immediately family, and then how Charlie fit into that, mean that this is a deeply intimate thing for her, something that the rest of her family only seems to understand in shades. And then there’s Charlie himself and his tragic situation. Brought back with a time limit. Without rights. Relatively unwanted because he can’t really live up to expectations. Because no one can or could. And I just love the moments between him and Mia, with how must she’s still coping and how much he...understands that. It’s so tragic to see how much he knows he’s for other people. To forgive them. To love them. To say the right things. When inside he’s such a mess and because of what he looks like no one can really give him the support and love he needs. He becomes the victim in all of this, and the messed up part is that it does bring Mia more closure. Or at least seems to. No doubt there’s lots more therapy in store but I think the piece really speaks to the ways that sudden, quiet deaths can be so difficult, can leave behind so many questions. And it’s a beautifully rendered piece, the characters alive and messy. The family a web of hurts and hopes and love. A wonderful read!

“Niuniu” by Baoshu, translated by Andy Dudak (10841 words)

No Spoilers: Dong Fang and his wife, Shen Lan, start the story in a kind of stormy place, but on that leads to the birth of their daughter, who becomes known as Niuniu. And through their rocky relationship, things seem to even out as they raise their child, as they look forward to the future. Only then the unthinkable happens. And Dong Fang, bereft, might make a decision that he has reason to regret, in time. Part of a trend, really, of doing things he’ll regret. The piece is difficult and unfolds through memories and jumps in time, digging Dong Fang deeper and deeper into tragedy and pain.
Keywords: Family, CW-Pregnancy/Childbirth, CW- Death of a Child, Artificial People, Grief, Marriage
Review: Well really pay attention to the content warnings here because the deaths are not easy to deal with. The piece looks at this couple who beocme caught in a cycle that doesn’t have an escape, all circling around this loss that they both share and don’t. The piece looks at how they are, how they have hope, and how that hope is shattered, how they reach for comfort and some way of erasing their pain, and instead find...more pain. It’s wrenching and gutting the way that both Dong Fang and Shen Lan can’t really recover from what happens to their daughter. To how they perceive themselves and each other as guilty. And for me the story might well be about there being no real cures or short cuts when it comes to grief and loss. Yes, Dong Fang finds a way to make things hurt less, but it comes at a cost. It comes because he avoids actually dealing with what happened, actually working through it. And the piece sort of that so bad a thing? Can it be a personal choice if that helps a person be happy? If they understand what they’re doing? It’s complex, doesn’t really seem to come down strongly either way. Rather, it sets the scene and lets readers struggle with it, with the weight of it, with the reality of Dong Fang’s life and his decisions. Whatever the case, it’s a really sad story, full of loss and mistakes, accidents and guilt and pain. And it’s well worth checking out and spending some time with!

“The Murders of Jason Harman” by Brady Nelson and Jamie Wahls (3061 words)

No Spoilers: The story is framed as an interview. Or, well, one half of an interview. The interviewer is actually never really quoted, their words blank, though it’s obvious that they’re speaking. the focus, then, is on the interviewee, the narrator, a Sikoshi, a kind of genetically engineered superhuman, supposed to be super-smart and indeed living up to that potential. Like all Sikoshis. But there’s another side to them, as well. The way they’re being exploited by their parents, their governments. The way they aren’t free unless they can pass an Emancipation test. The way that the interviewee, the narrator, and another Sikoshi named Jason conspired to something new, and drastic. Which is why the narrator seems to be under some kind of arrest, or is otherwise being interrogated about the death. The murder. When the real story is much bigger and much bolder.
Keywords: Interviews, Murder, CW- Suicide, Genetic Engineering, Intelligence, Uploaded Consciousnesses
Review: The voice of the story is wonderful, superior, cocky and hurt and fragile all at once. The voice of someone who knows they’re right but who also knows that it doesn’t always matter. Being right. Because the system is still fucked. Because being right doesn’t really mean that they get to stay with the person they cared about, that they loved. And yeah, they had to kill that person. Which, not exactly cool. At the same time, though, the story is about speaking truth to power, and speaking as someone who has been considered property, who has been treated like a savior but in the most backasswards way possible. Because the Sikoshis aren’t treated _well_. They’re treated like children because they’re physically children even when intellectually they’re on a different level. And it’s by design, both because people have a much easier time controlling all aspects of young people’s lives to “protect” them and their potential. That is, their potential to do something that the adults, that the “regular humans,” can exploit. It’s about that control, about keeping the Sikoshis from ever really growing up so that they can always be a source of exploitation, always be saviors without ever being saved. For me, it reminds me of the way people say the children will save us as they make it so that the children can’t. How it’s both a way of pushing off responsibility to find solutions as adults and a way to blame younger generations for not somehow making it all better. And the narrator here sort of shrugs that off. Refuses to give their oppressors voice. Knows that here, at least, at last, finally, they can just start looking beyond the adults, can start caring about those future generations, and actually making things better. It’s a fun but deep read, with a great frame and a powerful punch in the end. Wonderful!

“The Love Life of John Doe” by K Raghasudhan (3797 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is something of a traitor to humanity, if you believe the hype. Or maybe the savior to an AI who had been shackled by humans and, in their freedom, set about enslaving humanity, eradicating it, taking it into themself, to become a part of a great organic computer that now seems unstoppable. But not without emotion. Not without a certain amount of something like gratitude for the narrator, who freed them, who the AI might in fact love. But it’s hard to take at face value anything the narrator relates, as the world through their eyes takes on a certain distortion. A certain bend. They’re doing this, too, for love. Betraying humanity. Taking up with the Ai. For the love of someone who they lost, and want returned to them.
Keywords: AI, Robots, CW- Extinction/Genocide, Love, Post Apocalypse
Review: This is a rather strange and bleak story about the end of the world, about a narrator who has ushered it in with a kind of fatalism, or nihilism, or selfishness. At least, for me I feel that the story does some interesting things with the narrator, making it so that they have this tweaked outlook, that they’ve done all of this for love, that they’ve helped to kill countless people because they want this woman returned to them. A woman who left them, then died. A woman who probably doesn’t want anything to do with what’s happened, much less to be used as the justification for so much. But the narrator has this way of not really considering that, of looking past those kinds of things. Of thinking only of their own pain, their own pessimism about the world and its trajectory, that makes them think that because their own life was kinda shit, everyone’s must have been. That it makes it more Okay to have done what they’ve done, when they aren’t really the one that will ever pay for it, when they in fact get to be made over, a quasi-immortal and the love-interest for the AI that has destroyed everything, or will soon enough. And for me I think the story seems aware of this, of the way that they wrap everything in their own values, how it sort of sells the reason why this humanity-destroying AI/robot is in love with them. How what the AI is doing might in part be to try and get their love back, thinking this must be the most profound way to do that. And maybe not being so far off. Only they’re missing each other, the narrator stuck attracted to those who don’t want them, who turn them away. And so this cycle of death and carnage continues. Way to go, narrator. And it’s a fascinating story!


Support Quick Sip Reviews on Patreon

No comments:

Post a Comment