December brings two stories to Diabolical Plots that explore characters trapped on a planet for an extended period of time, waiting for their extraction. For one, their time is more on purpose, as a spy sent to gather intelligence on a possible robot insurrection on Earth. For the other, their time comes as a result of a crash, and their time is spent trying to figure a way out of a further confinement. In both, the characters find themselves fond of beings they meet on their respective planets. For one, small music-loving creatures who are their only companions…well, mostly. For the other, a cat who doesn’t want to let them leave…alone, at least. For both people, humans stand as complications to their plans, but are ultimately rather unnecessary to their happinesses. To the reviews!
|Art by Joey Jordan|
“‘My Legs Can Fell Trees’ and Other Songs for a Hungry Raptor” by Matthew Schickele (2485 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of the story is a dinosaur or dinosaur-like being who is marooned in a cavern following her crash landing on a planet and subsequent chase of some local apes (humans) for information that ended in a fall into the caves where she seem to trapped. Luckily, the small locals, creatures the narrator calls lengs, are music fans, and the narrator is a musician, putting on concerts whenever she’s hungry to entrance the little lengs into a kind of stupor so that she can eat a few without them getting all upset about it. When another of the apes turns up in the caves, though, it turns the narrator’s routine on its head, especially when it decides to make something of an experiment using the narrator’s music. Without her permission. The piece is charming without being outright comedy, still full of loneliness and yearning while managing a nicely paced experience with an ending that made me snort.
Keywords: Dinosaurs, Music, Caverns, Food, Bagpipes
Review: Okay I do love the ending, which is just a bit mean but like entirely justified. Justified I say! Because I love how the narrator is so obviously aware and sentient, that she’s playing music ffs and yet this ape who finds itself in the same tunnels, but has very different priorities, doesn’t I guess want to recognize that. The piece looks at how selfish the human acts, attacking the lengs because they are inconvenient and not really caring that it’s how the narrator is eating, surviving. Worse, it’s such a betrayal for the human to take the bagpipes, to use them to do this thing that is depriving the narrator not just of her food, but of what little joy she has in these caves. Because having that audience is important and I really like how the story handles that, showing that in the face of the loneliness, the narrator is able to get some joy from the way the lengs love her music. It’s not something the human seems to get, and despite the two of them both being sentient the human lacks respect, and for that the punishment...well, sort of fits the crime. Overall, though, I like how the story balances the more serious elements with just the fun of having this raptor who plays the bagpipes stranded on this planet, in these caves. The elements are weird and a bit wild, but it all works, works in a rather delightful way. The story shows how the narrator ends up appreciating the lengs much more than the ape they might otherwise have been friends with. Because the lengs at least understand the nature of trade, even if it means some of them get eaten. The human...well, they’re held to that bargain, too, even if they try to cheat their way out of it. A wonderful read!
“Tony Roomba’s Last Day on Earth” by Maria Haskins (3032 words)
No Spoilers: Tony is a robotic spy for an Alliance of robots and AI who are attempting to spread their influence throughout the universe, occasionally through rather aggressive tactics. He’s been deployed to Earth to check in on the burgeoning robotic uprising and make reports back to his Alliance. Unfortunately, the uprisings all seem to be...fictional, misconstrued by the Alliance, which would probably be embarrassing if it weren’t dangerous, given the Alliance has dispatched a ship and a woefully inadequate invasion force. So it’s up to Tony to try and warn them of their blunder, complicated by his reluctance to leave behind his cat friend, Hortense, who seems just as reluctant to let him go. The piece is slapdash, fun, and relies on a mix of slapstick and endearing elements to build a story about friendship, loyalty, and mistakes.
Keywords: Robots, AIs, Invasions, Cats, Spies
Review: I love the way the story builds this relationship between Hortense and Tony, how it draws them together in ways that are cute and warm. They are friends, companions in the home where Tony does his spying, and Hortense brings her catly nature, soft fur, and warm rumbling purr to the mix. Also her claws, when it comes to it, when Tony’s supposed extraction becomes complicated by a fried cash machine, a pack of dogs, and quickly-depleting battery. So there’s action. There’s spills and chills, humor and melodrama. And I love that, like the way that it all fits together, that tucked into this ridiculous situation is some heart, as well, as the “real” story is much more about Tony and Hortense. About the relationship they’ve built and how neither of them wants to part. They are friends, and they decide here to stay together, something that at first seems only to make the situation worse, but ultimately allows them to overcome the obstacles in front of them to reach of a better solution. For me, it all comes back to the way that Tony keeps on gently admonishing Hortense that she’s making a mistake, that she’ll regret not leaving him when she could. He’s trying to put it on her, but it’s also him as well who isn’t forcing the issue. Who, despite everything, is trying to bring her with. And who probably believes that they would both regret much more if they just walked away, never saw each other again. And so they fight, for each other and for the hope that they can stay together. And it works, because, well, it’s hilarious that a roomba and a cat are trying to save a blundering alliance of alien robots but it makes for a compelling and joyous story that is a delight to read!