The Best of Clarkesworld 2016

written by David Steffen

Another great year for Clarkesworld, lots of great stories by authors both familiar and new.  Clarkesworld remains the most prolific of the podcasts I listen to, clocking in at 83 stories for the year of 2016, and with a much higher wordcount limit than most of the others, that comes to significantly more words.  Neil Clarke continues as editor, and Kate Baker continues to produce, host, and narrate most of the episodes of the podcast.

They continue to publish monthly stories published from Chinese through a relationship with StoryCom.  This has had a wonderful result, as I’ve very much enjoyed finding new Chinese authors in translation through Clarkesworld, and you can clearly see the effect on this list.

All of the stories that are eligible for the Nebulas and Hugos are marked with an asterisk (*) if they are Clarkesworld originals, or a double-asterisk (**) if they were first published elsewhere in 2016 and then reprinted in Clarkesworld.

The List

1. “The Snow of Jinyang” by Zhang Ran, translated by Ken Liu and Carmen Yiling Yan*
Alternate history with the city of Jinyang holding many anachronistic technologies (including an internet!).  Apparently this is a whole subgenre of Chinese science fiction, and I want to read more of it!

2.  “Everybody Loves Charles” by Bao Shu, translated by Ken Liu*
Celebrity racer Charles is one of the most popular people int he world, owing in large part to his live-casting of his whole life, that anyone can come along for the ride.  But how can he have any kind of real romance, living like that?

3.  “Against the Stream” by A Que, translated by Nick Stember*
There is a rare condition where, after living one’s live normally, one abruptly starts to live it in reverse day by day.

4.  “The Calculations of Artificals” by Chi Hui, translated by John Chu*
In a world that appears like ours, but where most of the people are constructs meant only to be convincing for those few real people, the protagonist of this story is in charge of making sure this all runs smoothly.

5.  “Rusties” by Nnedi Okorafor and Wanuri Kahiu*
A girl befriends a rusty, one of the automated traffic control bots, known for their rusty appearance.

6.  “Chimera” by Gu Shi, translated by S. Qiouyi Lu and Ken Liu*
A young boy is horribly hurt in a car accident, and his scientistmother uses her developing research to save his life.

7.  “The Dark City Luminous” by Tom Crosshill**
One of the world’s best Augmented Reality developers, who has helped change the world to a complete AR experience to reskin the world however you like, and they soon won’t be able to use the AR themselves.

8.  “The Next Scene” by Robert Reed*
The aliens have come, and they’ve remade the economy and social order of the world to reward citizens for making entertaining drama for them.

Honorable Mentions

“Reef” by Paul McAuley

“Afrofuturist 419” by Nnedi Okorafor

“The Fixer” by Paul McAuley

“The Governess With the Artificial Womb” by Leena Likitalo

 

 

Daily Science Fiction: May 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Hey there fans of Daily Science Fiction. Have you’ve been enjoying all the free works of speculative fiction all these years? If you have, maybe you can show the editors some love. First, here are this month’s storiesâ€

 

Stories about or containing affairs as plot are fairly common, yet “Persephone at Arm’s Length” by Bridget A. Natale (debut 5/1 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) stands out because of how polar opposite the two characters are.

The protagonist puts up with more than any man rightly should (which is deftly “shown” not “told” by the author). And she is solely in need of companionship while her husband is away(Where he is gives this tale quite a boost).

There’s a distinctly lopsided relationship here, even for two people married to others, and I gather that it’s not likely to change.

 

“Lyam” by Jez Patterson (debut 5/2 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a fun, flash piece about human parents struggling to come to grips with their adopted baby. Their alien baby.

The father is on board, ready to go, and soothes his wife with humor and love, but she — she’s not so sure. Decent story. Simple, and enjoyable.

 

“Things We Leave Behind” by Alex Shvartsman (debut 5/ 3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a story about a Russian couple and their son leaving their country, town, and legacy, not so much to find a better life but to escape a not-so-great one. Fueled by the matriarch and with the young son eager to explore, the father eventually acquiesces and parcels their belongings, including his vast collection of books. The books that have kept their town safe for generations.

Personally, I enjoyed this story very much. There’s subtle hints of magic here and the timing of world events leads the reader to believe they are absolutely true.

 

“The Taking Tree” by Emily C. Skaftun (debut 5/6 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) according to the author’s notes was inversely inspired by The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. While I can certainly see the author’s motivation I admit I was disappointed to discover this fact because I quite enjoyed the story as-is.

A tree, having been cut down by a life-long friend, grows anew around the stump with rings of saplings that together become the mightiest tree in the forest. Sadly, however, the tree’s thoughts are bitter and when other children come to play she doesn’t trust them; she hurts them.

 

“Smaug, MD” by Andrew Kaye (debut 5/7 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a brilliant story in which dragons have returned to the Earth but are small enough to become our physicians. They’re better at doctoring than their human counterparts, and have set up complex insurance programs which culminate in the consumption of the patient at the time of death.

However, the narrator’s father is let in on a secret mere moments before he is to be eaten that shakes his foundation, and that of his daughter. What did the dragon tell him?

Unfortunately, I found myself so interested in what the revelation was, that the story itself, the journey, lost some of its luster. Good stories start with a question that’s answered at the end, and this one was great. Possibly too great.

 

“Puss” by Melissa Mead (debut 5/8 and reviewed by Frank D). The famous fairy tale cat readies himself for the next chapter in his life, and takes a previous rival as a convenient companion.

In this alternate fairy tale, Puss has had enough , electing to strike out on his own. It isn’t clear to me if this is an unwritten epilogue of the old classic, or a divergence in the original story.

 

Peter Whitt stands accused of the most heinous of crimes, the attempted assassination of the angel. In “Ichor” by Jess Hyslop (debut 5/9 and reviewed by Jim Hanzelka) he shows no emotion as the charges and sentence of death is read. He stares straight ahead not looking at the priest as he rolls up the scroll. He doesn’t react as the executioner strides to the handle, doesn’t acknowledge the jeers and thrown dirt clods from the crowd. Only when he falls through the trap door does he react. He smiles. It is as if he knows something no one else does.

This is an interesting story. I can’t say I really cared for the layered flashback structure the author uses to tell the tale, but still the sense of the story comes through. The author does a pretty good job of setting and character development for a short work and the ending works well. Overall an interesting read, if not one of my favorites.

 

The princess withers under the overbearing hand of her father in “The Princess and Her Tale” by Mari Ness (debut 5/9 and reviewed by Jim Hanzelka). She is aware of her value only as a princess, but her father sees her as the reincarnation of her mother and seeks to hold her unmarried at his side. The minister concocts a plan to free the princess. She adopts a disguise and with her maid leaves the city. Along the road they meet three women who give them gifts to aid in their goal to have the princess meet and marry a princess from another land.

The author has crafted a well written tale that flows well for the most part. The problem is it seemed a little too familiar and in the end just wasn’t interesting enough to hold my attention. The story also seemed cramped in this format with not enough space to allow the spectacle to flourish or the tale to unfold gently. Overall not a story I would recommend, unless you are a devotee of fairy tales, then it may be worth a read.

 

A medium has a special bond with her dead in “Forgiving Dead” by Jeff Stehman (debut 5/13 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is visited by a pair of customers. Like many, they wish to contact a lost relative , a victim of a tragic accident.

“Forgiving Dead” is a story of condolence. The protagonist’s gift is her own penance, a reminder of her role in the spirits of this tale’s fate. A nice, but not jarring, twist at the end. I rather liked it.

 

The yearly family get together would not be complete without the telling of the traditional tale in “The Troll (A Tale Told Collectively)” by Marissa Lingen (debut 5/14 and reviewed by Frank D). Telling the tale , much like the outcome of the tale , always ends in disaster.

This light-hearted look at family reunions centers around the conflicting story of a troll that had a habit of disrupting past reunions , until the day long-gone grandpa rudely put the trolls intrusion to an end. The telling of the tale is never completed but the story within the story wasn’t really the story anyway. “The Troll” is a tale of dysfunctional family dynamic and is an excellent analogy on why so many of us don’t look forward to holiday gatherings every year.

 

Faith powers the “Airship Hope” by Laurel Amberdine (debut 5/15 and reviewed by Frank D). The lighter-than-air ship is a vessel prophets deemed necessary. A labor of a thousand years, monks ride in search of a new land, steering through the skies on the power of prayer. Only doubt can doom the vessel. Those who lose faith, are cast aside , no matter how important they are.

“Airship Hope” is a tale of commitment. The captain of the craft is the bishop of the order. A test craft proved doubt will spread and spell the end of the vessel. Blind faith is a must. The tale has a slight twist but it isn’t the climax of this short tale. The bishop’s own faith is tested, and you can see the seeds of his own doubt sewn in the fabric of the finale.

 

A hard woman makes her man hard in “Puppet Man” by Cate Gardner (debut 5/16 and reviewed by Frank D). Walter is a mealy married to an overbearing woman. Maeve is a bully who is never satisfied with her husband. To combat her boredom (and to get away from Walter) she acquires a hobby , taking up woodworking at the local college. Her instructor also teaches sorcery, and Mauve is eager to combine the two talents, and experiment on Walter.

“Puppet Man” is a tragedy. Walter is a spineless man who can’t please , but never stops trying , his wife. Maeve is the worse type of spouse; judgmental, unsympathetic, rude, selfish, bossy – and with all the tenderness of a cactus. She doesn’t like her husband one bit. Walter is very unhappy with his marriage but lacks the courage to put his foot down. Maeve is out to change him once and for all.

The story is told from Walter’s perspective. The reader ends up hating Maeve and her lack of any redeeming quality whatsoever. Weak, indecisive, complicit; Walter doesn’t come off well either in the sympathy department. He internally contemplates leaving Maeve but outwardly endures her masochistic actions. “Puppet Man” attempts a twist but twist fails to turn the story. The changes Maeve imposes on Walter does nothing to change him or his mind. Instead, it only serves as another pin for Maeve to poke her man with.

 

An extrinsic cybernetic man buys “The Last Tiger” by Joanne Anderton (debut 5/17 and reviewed by Frank D). Edward is a wealthy man. He fills his home with replicas of extinct animals. The Last Tiger is his most unique possession , a creature that is mostly alive. Its brain and heart are cybernetic units – such are the limitations of biological components – but the creature smells, defecates, and acts like the predator it once was. The living creature requires a lot of care but there is something alluring to it. Edward is drawn to its primeval need to hunt, as if its desire to kill is what makes it seem so alive.

“The Last Tiger” is a tale of decay. Earth has become a sterilized world where the electronic has merged with the biological. Society, the landscape, and personalities mimic what once was. The tiger in this tale acts like an overgrown house cat for Edward, seeking his owner’s affections and bringing his fresh kills for Edward as ‘gifts’. The large creature drives a wedge between Edward and his wife, and between Edward and his reality. So fascinated he is with his pet that he forgoes the basics of substance for himself. The story at this point changes. What was set up as a metaphor on our decaying society becomes a diverting Trojan Horse finale.

I found this story to be well-conceived. The people of this future are barely people anymore and I got the impression that civilization was operating on an auto-pilot. Biomechanical humanity has become a sterilized society; a mimic of what we once were. This portion of the premise attracted me. However, the payoff I was expecting never came when a twist took the story in a direction I wasn’t expecting and into a conclusion I didn’t fully understand. Let me just say the disguised antagonist’s motives I don’t get. It left me scratching my head and wondering ‘why?’

 

“Private Memories” by Michael Haynes (debut 5/20 and reviewed by Jim Hanzelka).

The main character can control time and is using this ability to prevent Sara from killing herself. Over and over again he tries to change the events, failing each time. Five, six, seven tries are not enough. Finally he succeeds, finds the right words to pull her back. But someday the time will come when even this ability isn’t enough, and the fates will have their due.

This story has an interesting premise. If you had the ability to go back in time and correct some mistake, should you; or are you doomed to eventually pay the price. While I like the concept, I can’t really say I care for the execution in this case. The author has chosen to put this in a first person format that felt a little distant to me. I never really felt for his characters, therefore I found the piece a little flat.

 

The narrator is in the basement with her friend’s lover in “The Left Side of Your Lover’s Broken Face” by Brynn MacNab (debut 5/20 and reviewed by Jim Hanzelka), but they are only playing ping pong. She’s comfortable with him as a friend, maybe more so than her female friend. Their discussion ranges from politics to cows to shoes. The lover is distracted by the conversation, which leads to an unfortunate accident with a ping pong ball. This event cascades into a darker event, one that reveals a secret that changes the narrator’s perspective on life. Eventually.

This is another oddly constructed story, but with a less interesting premise. I found the characters oddly flat and distant. Even the narrator seemed to display a lack of passion, even when fleeing for a weekend. Even odder, the author tries to portray her as terrified, but the next week she’s back acting as if the traumatic event is merely bad socialization. I found the whole story a little disjointed.

 

A princess seeks an escape in “A Little Sleep” by Melissa Mead (debut 5/22 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a bright daughter of a widowed king. His only surviving child, she will make an excellent bargaining chip for an endowment. She does have a choice but it is a radical one.

“A Little Sleep” is a darker side to the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ fairy tale. The princess is well aware of the curse on her head, but has managed to steer clear of spindles thus far. Her predicament, as a married off princess, is not to her liking, which makes the allure of the spindle actually enticing.

I liked Ms Mead’s addition to this tale. Logical and gives the story more meaning. The ending had an amped up dark mystery to it as well. Well done.

 

Family togetherness involves a “Nitpick” by K. S. O’Neill (debut 5/23 and reviewed by Frank D). The characters of this story live in a future where parasites are accepted companions.

This story’s point was lost on me. There were a lot of subplots that had no obvious connections to me. The central theme to this story is the tolerated lice that live on their human hosts. The humans have come to frown upon the serious arts , like science and math , while pushing their children to take up frivolous activities.

I hate to nitpick at “Nitpick” but I found this tale not that all fulfilling and a little bit gross.

 

Pest, pet, or partner? “An Exodus of Wings” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (debut 5/24 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of three people whose lives intersect from a fairy infestation in Michael’s apartment. He had always taken steps to keep them at bay but when he fell for Heidi, his attention to detail waned and the fairies soon appeared. He doesn’t dare harm them when she is around. It becomes clear that it is the fairies that draw her to his apartment and he realizes that there will be no future between the two. Time to call an exterminator.

“An Exodus” is a tale of three perspectives. The writer chose to tell each person’s tale in a different point of view (distant 3rd person, 1st person, and 2nd person), unique and accomplished well. It takes talent to pull that challenge off well , kudos to Ms. Stufflebeam. Although her story telling skills are impressive, the story itself was thin. The tale was just about a boy who was willing to live with an inconvenience to impress a girl. The fact that the inconvenience was a magical pest made the premise only slightly different. The ending left me unfulfilled.

 

A man strikes a deal to achieve everything in “The Bargain” by Henry Szabranski (debut 5/27 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is in the midst of the final scene in a final act of a tragedy of his own creation. He had made a deal with the devil without weighing the costs.

“The Bargain” is a very short tale on greed. It is written as if it were the final page of a much longer story. What happens before is not known to the reader but it doesn’t matter with the conclusion that is left for us anyway.

A great work of flash. I can imagine plenty of readers unsatisfied with its brief telling and sharp conclusion but I liked this commentary on overpaying for your deepest desire.

Recommended.

 

“The Wheel of Fortune” by Alexander Lumans (debut 5/28 and reviewed by Frank D). Aliens have invaded Earth and are tearing up the ground to extract its minerals. The protagonist is a young soldier whose dreams are big and plans bigger.

This story is told with headers pertaining to cards in a Tarot deck. I don’t know of the orders of the cards or their meanings, so part of the point of this tale may have been lost on me. That aside, I could only follow about half of what the story was about. The conclusion felt as if a large section of the tale was missing. I got the nature of the interstellar conflict, but the protagonist’s inner turmoil fell out of my grasp.

 

Four witches are out to concoct a special thing from the “Jumbo Gumdrop Serenade” by E. Catherine Tobler (debut 5/29 and reviewed by Frank D). The thing they have been waiting for has arrived on their porch. The four brew their potion, speak their spell, dance their dance, in hopes of creating something greater than themselves. What they get is a something so different from what they are.

“Jumbo Gumdrop” is a tale I had to read twice, and read slowly to grasp what it was about. A big mystery is kept from the reader as the author dangles encrypted hints. The effort of deciphering it was laborious. The ending did have an appropriate twist that made reading the story worth it.

 

A ghost baby cries relentlessly in “Ghosts in the Walls” by Shannon Peavey (debut 5/30 and reviewed by Frank D). The spirit of a baby in Laura’s apartment wall is a wailer. It cries until an earthquake comes then is silent as if it is rocked asleep. Its screams are wearing on Laura nerves but she is compelled to endure them.

The protagonist in “Ghosts” is a woman racked with guilt. She is in the midst of a divorce. Her child was lost in a crib death months ago. Earthquakes plague the city but leave her building unharmed. Any or all of these occurrences may be the reason why the baby in her wall screams but the reader and protagonist are clueless why. The story does have a straightforward conclusion, which likely was the reason why I never saw it coming. It was hidden in plain sight along.

“Ghosts in the Walls” is a very good ghost story. Short, sweet, and little sad. Everything a ghost story should be.

Recommended.

 

A political pundit lives on with the help from “The Suit” by Robert Reed (debut 5/31 and reviewed by Frank D). Garrett is a writer on matters of public policy. His articles are popular and his Sunday appearances on news programs are influential. His conservative principles hold much influence but his mental faculties take a hit after a small stroke. Ill-conceived words threaten his credibility, but a wealthy fan offers him a solution so he won’t fade from the public eye; an artificial intelligence assistant hidden in a suit.

“The Suit” is a long tale in a small package. The protagonist is a crafty man who has done well masking an average intelligence with timing and keen insight on outward appearance. His conservative opinions strike a fascist tone one day, nearly derailing him for good. A benefactor salvages his credibility and enhances his intelligence with the help of his suit. Soon, his radical notions become policy. He is a star once again, but age has its effects, ending his life. However, the suit remains, and the people closest to Garrett would love to wear it.

You cannot ignore the veiled distaste the author has for his protagonist. Although Garrett could represent one of many real life pundits, the fictional character’s beliefs really didn’t matter. The story could have been told if his views were a mirror opposite on the left. The tale was a commentary of the effects of artificial intelligence and how its benefits for a few could have disastrous effects for those who have not the means to acquire such assistance for themselves. Although the story made its ‘point’, it lacked a discernible moral I would have expected for a politically motivated piece. It was very much like the political debates on TV; thoughtful words from (a) smart sounding pundit(s) to make you believe you are learning something, but in reality resolve nothing when it ends.

 

A Chance to Settle a Paying Forward Debtâ€

As I have stated before, a leading editor and reviewer once told me that he doubted Daily Science Fiction would have a long lifespan because of a non-existent (at least one he couldn’t see) business model. Jon Laden and Michele-Lee Barasso proved him , and many other , doubters wrong. They have managed to maintain DSF as a free distributor of speculative fiction for three years strong , and counting. At eight cents a word and publishing hundreds of thousands of words a year you don’t have to be a mathematician to know that can’t be cheap. Paying authors aside, there is the expense of maintaining and sending a story to 7000+ subscribers every work day. A friend of mine once calculated what the cost of just running the web page must be for the editors. I was floored.

So, our two founding heroes have done it without asking for a dime, but the pot they found at the end of the rainbow just might becoming a little bit light. They now could use some help.

Through Kickstarter, – an online project funder , DSF is asking its long standing members for a small donation. The amount they are asking for I don’t think will fund a month’s worth of stories, but it is all they are requesting. If every subscriber donated $1, they would meet their goals with enough left over for them to each grab a coffee or two at Starbucks. Of course, you know that guy next to you won’t give a cent (freeloader), so it’s up to you to throw in an extra buck for him.

Note: At the time of this writing, the campaign still needs over 2 grand more to meet its goals , and has two weeks left to do it. I confess, I am bit surprised they didn’t reach the very modest target in the first few days. So be a champ, and give.

Editor’s note: at the time of scheduling this post, the campaign needs about $700 in 7 days. Deadline is August 16–4 days from when this post becomes public.

 

Dustin AdamsThe Lord of the Underworld and all the damned souls in his realm would like to thank Diabolical Plots contributor Dustin Adams for achieving another sale , thus saving them a costly air conditioning bill for this month. His latest work will soon be appearing in an upcoming issue of Plasma Frequency. Congrats Dustin. And here I was worried it would take another million words for you to get published again.

Review: Nebula Novella Nominees 2012

written by David Steffen

On to the next category for Best Novella. I find this one another awkward one, covering word counts from 17,500 to 40,000. I like novels because they have room to spread out and really make you care about a broad range of characters in an intricately woven plot. I like short stories because they can really hit you with a story, worldbuilding, or other elements, get in and get out while you’re still excited. Novella I find is kind of awkward length, like a story that wants to be a novel but somehow just doesn’t have the stamina to make it all the way up there.

But, if I’m going to read novellas, I may as well start with the ones that others consider the best of the year, so here goes.

As soon as the Nebula nominees were announced I started reading through each category from Short Story up, intending to get as far as I could before the voting period ended on March 30. Since each category covers fiction that is progressively longer, the rate at which I can read them drops as I move on to each category. Unfortunately, I’m a pretty slow reader, so I didn’t have time to finish them all, and then I’ve moved on to Hugo-nominated works.

There were six nominees in total. I was able to read five of the six nominees, but I ran out of time before I could finish them all, and then the Hugo nominees were announced, giving me another load of stories to read. Katabasis (F&SF 11-12/12) by Robert Reed is the story that I didn’t get to read. Sorry about that, Mr. Reed! I’m a pretty slow reader and the Nebula voting window just wasn’t long enough.

This will be my last of the Nebula nominee reviews for this year, because it’s all that I had time to read in the scant time between announcing the stories and the voting deadline. Coming soon will be the Hugo nominees (some of which overlap with these)

 

Nebula Award for Best Novella

1. After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
An apocalypse hits the Earth in 2014, killing most people and rendering most of the planet unliveable. Very few people survived, and those were saved from certain death by boxlike tentacled figures (nicknamed Tesslies) that would appear in a shower of golden sparks, grab the person, and take them somewhere else. These survivors wake up in a building with no doors to the outside, with machinery meant to serve their basic food and sanitation needs. The Tesslies never told them what was happening, but their best interpretation is that aliens have attacked earth and kept some humans as specimens. Many years later a new piece of machinery they call the Grab machine appears in the Shell which periodically makes a window through time to the years before the apocalypse. Whoever goes through, the Grab machine yanks them back to the future with whatever they’re touching, so they use it to grab supplies and to grab children to help repopulate the future (adults die when they pass through). This part of the story follows Pete, a fifteen year old boy who is a child of some of the original survivors.

Meanwhile, back in 2013, mathematician Julie Kahn is working with a police task force trying to determine a pattern to the robberies and kidnappings.

This is one of the very few novellas I’ve ever read that worked effectively at its published length. I related completely to both Pete and Julie, even when they did things I didn’t agree with or when their actions were in direct opposition to each other. This story had me interested from beginning to end and it felt neither too long nor too short. Well done, Ms Kress, well done. Unfortunately, I hadn’t finished reading this before the Nebula voting period ended, but there’s a good chance that it will garner my Hugo vote for the same category.

 

2. All the Flavors by Ken Liu (GigaNotoSaurus 2/1/12)
Elsie Seaver is the daughter of a business owner in Idaho City in 1865. Much of the town, including her father Jack’s store have been burned down. Needing the money, Jack rents houses to Chinese miners despite his wife’s misgivings about their unfamiliar way of life. Elsie befriends the miners, especially a distinctive man named Lao Guan who tells her stories about a Chinese god who bears a very close resemblance to Lao Guan himself. They learn a great deal from each other in the time they spend together.

I ranked this story at 2nd because I liked the characters the most of the three that I read. I really liked Elsie and I enjoyed very much her interactions with Lao Guan. The story switches back and forth between Elsie’s time and Lao Guan’s stories, drawing some parallels between Lao Guan and the god in the story but never making the connection entirely concrete. The stories took up so much of the story space I wanted them to mean something, to tie into the main story in some way that was significant. So this story as a whole was either way too long, because it could’ve been split up into two component stories and the one about Elsie and Lao Guan would’ve been all the better for its conciseness. Or the story is way too short, lacking the space to really tie together its halves and making me really care about those other stories.

 

3. Barry’s Tale by Lawrence M. Schoen (Buffalito Buffet)
This is the story of Conroy, an interstellar businessman and his buffalito companion. Buffalito look just like buffalo but are the size of a dog, they can eat literally anything, and they fart oxygen. he has traveled to a planet called Colson’s World where a single family lives, all the adopted children of Colson himself. Most of the visitors to the planet are there for the barbeque cookoff, but Conroy is there to make a business proposition to Colson, to convince him of the value of buffalito that are Conroy’s business. While he’s there he meets Bethany, a little girl who has dangerous powers that have prompted her mother to keep her sedated for the safety of everyone. Only now the medication isn’t working anymore.

Hey, good to see what the buffalito thing is about–I know Lawrence Schoen was giving away buffalito plushies at his WorldCon reading, and I saw them on people’s shoulders throughout the weekend. Apparently two of his books have been published around buffalito, and this was part of a short story collection.

This story took way too long to get going. The first hook for me was about halfway through, which is entirely too far in a novella length work, where the stakes are finally revealed to try to save the girl from those who want to kill her to prevent her killing others accidentally (stakes that I can care about) that give our protagonist something more interesting to do than trying to sell buffalito breeding rights (about which I don’t give a damn). The second half of the story was action packed and interesting, but it was buried behind that first half.

It seemed, too, like I was supposed to be enamored with Reggie the buffalito and how irresistibly cute he’s supposed to be. And yes he is cute. But not enough to carry thousands and thousands of words on his own. It’s very possible that this story was targeted at people who’ve read Lawrence’s buffalito books, in which case I’m just not part of his target audience.

 

4. The Stars Do Not Lie by Jay Lake (Asimov’s 10-11/12)
Morgan Abutti, 4th degree Thalassocrete, member of the Planetary Society, has discovered something new in the stars that violates the truths taught by both the Lateran and the Thalassojustity belief systems that rule the world. He has arranged for a public discussion of his findings, which could shake the world. Bilious Quinx, master of the Consistatory Office (aka Inquisition) must find Abutti before he makes his heresy public. Eraster Goins, head Thalossocrete, has very different motives for finding Abutti.

As you might be able to tell from this brief explanation, there are several religious factions which at least to my mind were never clearly differentiated. Maybe that’s an intentional statement about religious schisms, maybe it could’ve been made clearer, or maybe I just don’t get it. I generally liked the Morgan Abutti character who did not consider his findings a heresy but only wanted to share his findings of the universe to expand their understanding of it, a scientist trying to work within a religious government system. But I just didn’t find the stakes all that riveting. Whether or not Abutti’s announcement becomes public, some other scientist will discover the truth anyway (as the story itself points out), so the events of the story feel pretty moot to me. It doesn’t help that the grand discovery has implications for major future changes, which don’t make it into the space of this story. Those major future changes are what I’m really interested in. If Jay writes a story about those I will read that story eagerly. But this one just didn’t feel all that relevant even within its own context.

 

5. On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
Cousin Linh has arrived on Prosper Station, seeking refuge from the Emperor, whom she has rebelled against in a token fashion. Quyen, magistrate of the station, allows her refuge grudgingly. Linh’s visit causes no end of trouble.

The world of the story takes traditional beliefs and uses futuristic technology to reinforce them. In particular, people in this society are not only expected to honor their ancestors, they also have memchips implanted in their brains that allow their ancestors to give them advice on everything that is happening around them. Very cool idea. The station’s systems are run by the Honoured Ancestress, a being that is sort of a metahuman, with an altered version of a human mind that allows it to run all of the day-to-day affairs of Prosper, and allowing residents of the station to interact with this mind by entering the trance. There’s something wrong with the Honoured Ancestress of Prosper.

I loved the worldbuilding in the story, but I just wasn’t that interested in the main events that took up the bulk of the story. Linh and Quyen’s conflicts didn’t really interest me. I didn’t particularly relate to either one, and it didn’t matter to me which one succeeded or failed in their goals. The state of the Honoured Ancestress was, to me, my biggest interest in terms of plot, but it did not have as much text devoted to it as I would’ve liked, and the solution to the problem was presented without a lot of interesting development to get there.

So this story just wasn’t for me. It was just too long to justify the parts of it I was actually interested in. It didn’t help that the length was such, and my free time segmented enough, that it took a dozen sittings to get through it.

 

The Best of Clarkesworld 2012+

written by David Steffen

Clarkesworld Magazine has been growing! Some time after my last Best of Clarkesworld post, they did a subscription drive where they promised to go from providing two stories per month to providing three stories per month. That drive was a success, and so they’ve been providing stories at the new rate for more than a year.

And now they’re working on yet another expansion. If they can get another push of subscribers in the near future, they’ll go up to 4 stories per month, which includes a podcast for each one. If you like the stories you read here, consider getting a subscription to help them produce even more! And, on top of that, they’ve brought in Gardner Dozois for a reprint division, which will be yet another story every month.

In September I had the pleasure of meeting Kate Baker, their podcast producer, host, and primary narrator at WorldCon. It was one of the highlights of a great week. She’s just as nice in person as she sounds on the podcast, and it felt very surreal to hear her voice when it wasn’t coming out of my iPod.

On to the list, which covers 53 episodes published since my last list in May 2011.

 

1. All the Painted Stars by Gwendolyn Clare
This is one of my Hugo/Nebula nomination picks for the year, with a shapeshifting alien POV that I found very enjoyable.

2. The Womb Factory by Peter M. Ferenczi
In the future, our products will still be made in 3rd world countries, but instead of being built by hand they will be grown in the wombs of the women who work their.

3. The Wisdom of Ants by Thoraiya Dyer
Great worldbuilding here with metal-eating ants.

4. What Everyone Remembers by Rahul Kanakia
Another great nonhuman POV story.

5. Synch Me, Kiss Me, Drop by Suzanne Church
A story based in the club scene of the future.

 

Honorable Mention

Pack by Robert Reed

Immersion by Aliette de Bodard
One of this year’s Nebula nominees for Short Story category

Robot by Helena Bell
Another of this year’s Nebula nominees for Short Story category

 

Daily Science Fiction: February 2012 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Well, so much for that pledge. Disaster hit me a month plus ago. My laptop died. Fortunately, most of the stuff I was working was backed up, except for the reviews of Daily SF. No big deal, just had to reread, rewrite, and resave the entire month of reviews I did. Good thing these stories are worth a second readâ€

 

“Worlds Like a Hundred Thousand Pearls” by Aliette de Bodard (debut 2/1 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). Okay this is the part of the review where I tell you a synopsis of the story. The problem is that after reading this several times I’m not sure what that story is. It starts out with an explanation of the transcendental number, e, and progresses through Buddhism, ending in a parable wrapped in a metaphor. Maybe it’s just because I read it on the 20th of April. (If you don’t know the significance of that date, ask a college student.)

This story definitely isn’t for everyone, because it sure wasn’t for me. I found it confusing, muddled and I’m still not sure what the point was. I guess there was an attempt to build a pseudo-existential parable, but it was lost on me. There were some good little descriptions in there, like the worlds being stacked on one and other like a child’s stacking toy, but they are too few and not joined by any connective tissue. In the end the story felt like a bad saying I had found inside some fortune cookies.

 

The death of a monkey is seen from several perspectives in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Monkey” by Ruth Nestvold (debut 2/2 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). As we progress from the simple statement, that a monkey was alive and then died, to more detailed descriptions, the impacts are revealed. This is a story in thirteen vignettes each building on the previous ones. They tell a story of man’s inhumanity and the ape’s all too human reactions to it.

I liked how this story changed perspectives with each segment, and how the author used this perspective change to touch our sensibilities. He leads us down the path we know we must go, but rebel against. Good story, handled with deftness and a clever setup.

 

The main character is pulled into a game night in “Cloudburst” by Robert Reed (debut 2/3 and reviewed by James Hanzelka), forcing him to put aside business and focus on mundane interactions with his wife and son. A sudden storm interrupts and as it grows in intensity and destructiveness he is forced to view the world differently, often applying his own particular prism to the events.

This is a simple tale proceeding from a mundane night at home to more profound thoughts. The author does a good job of injecting wonder and mystery into a seemingly simple set of natural events. I liked the way he managed to weave several levels of consciousness into what might seem a simple night of homebound normalcy interrupted by a simple storm. The writing is clear and crisp as the air after that cloudburst and as evocative as the display of lightening in the northern sky.

 

Be careful what you pour down a drain is the theme of “Biomass” by Alexander Stanmyer (debut 2/6 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this tale is a commercial genetic therapist, working within the confines of a Living City. A botched batch of a concoction to boost a client’s immune system is dumped into the city’s waste reservoir, and now the city is showing signs that it isn’t feeling so well.

This story is set in a future where cities are living breathing life forms; tailored to absorb our waste, see to our needs, and grow the infrastructure a city needs. The author presented it as one person’s confessional, keenly aware he is the instrument of the city’s oncoming death. Perhaps because of its short size, the tale is eerily dark, making it appealing and revolting, depending on your particular flavor of speculative fiction. I must confess I loved this premise but was disappointed because of the brief manner in which it was told. This is a tale that deserves a far larger narrative. A novella or novel is the proper venue to tell a tale like this correctly, and I encourage the author to bring it to life so we can view what a metropolitan involuntary manslaughter crime truly looks like.

 

“Magic Enough” by Chuck Von Nordheim (debut 2/7 and reviewed by Dustin Adams). Sometimes there’s just enough magic. As adults, we wouldn’t know. Perhaps the real world and our bills and busy lives steal the magic from us, or perhaps it just fades with time.

For young Evan, he’s got just enough remaining to conjure his invisible friend and pass a tangled message to his best friend who is about to pass from our world. The boys know, they understand, even if the parents only wonder.

 

“Angry Child” by Benjamin Rosenbaum (debut 2/8 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is an interesting story of a man, plummeting to his death, contemplating who is to blame for his falling; himself, for not catching hold of the window as he was pushed through it, or his daughter, for having done the pushing.

Other contemplations take place during the life-flashing fall but for the most part, the plot through-line, that which led his fall, is what I found most gripping.

This is the first story I’ve read by Benjamin, so I can’t say if his style is traditionally wordy and purple, but this particular prose was a bit too over-the-top for me to fully sink my teeth into. However, the story is sound.

 

The Empress Uvay is dying and must choose her heir in “The Steel Throne” by Eric James Stone (debut 2/9 and reviewed by Frank D). The hard empress has two descendants to choose from; a son , the rightful heir, and her daughter , child of her heart. The two have their own strengths that would benefit the great nation she helped to create, but would lead the empire in opposite directions. She has only one real choice to make, and only she can change it.

“The Steel Throne” is mostly a historical look back at the empire Uvay created. The narrative explains how the nation came to be and shows why her choice is so difficult to make. The path the author took to tell this story made it obvious that a twist was on its way. It read like one big set up for an ending that had only one of two ways to go, which turned the reveal into a coin flip for the reader.

Early tension. A prophesy. A mysterious girl. A kingdom under tyranny. What more could you ask?

 

In “The Age of Three Stars” by Kenneth Schneyer (debut 2/10 and reviewed by Dustin Adams), the author draws a complex life for Petros, the aging protagonist. His station, blacksmith’s apprentice, and his age, say a lot about his character. A self-professed coward, he hid during a preliminary uprising, and was the only rebel to survive.

Now, thirty some years later, the prophecy of a new age, heralded by an eclipse, should be about to come true… but he’s the only one who remembers the date.

He relates the prophecy through song to Zandra, a young street urchin dead-set on being his apprentice, thus unburdening his tainted soul.

The conclusion and how the prophesy plays out is best told by Kenneth, not I. So please sit back and read this Friday offering. You won’t be disappointed.

Recommended.

 

A man seeks a magical item that will give him an advantage in “The Pencil of Truth” by Shamus Maxwell (debut 2/13 and reviewed by Frank D). Magnus knows his shops, asking the owner for a “magical object that will change my life for the better, then for the worse, After turning down the first two choices, the owner offers him a pencil that writes only the truth.

“The Pencil” was a delightful story. The pencil changes anything the writer writes but what it reveals can never be predicted. Waiting for information you’ll find useful can take some time, and may reveal facts you really didn’t need to know. For a work of flash, the twist and turns in this tight narrative had me on the edge of my seat. The ending was to die for.

Recommended.

 

“Joey LeRath’s Rocketship” by Julian Mortimer Smith (debut 2/14 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a recently missing boy recruited to pilot a vagrant’s cardboard rocketship. Billy is lost. He ran off when his parents began to argue in the crowded Crouchtree market near a nuclear weapons stand. Joey LeRath finds him and offers the scared lad a bit of candy and a safe place out of the crowd. Joey has made a spaceship, flimsy as a weathered shack. He needs a pilot, and Billy is just the man for the job.

“Joey LeRath’s Rocketship” is a fantasy story set in a science fiction world. Billy’s family has torn itself apart on the eve when the Earth is about to do the same. The tale was difficult for me to buy. Although I found the writing solid, I was left unsatisfied following along. The ending left me wondering what the whole story was about.

 

“Pulse” by Stephen Gaskell (debut 2/15 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is an interstellar probe on its way the Crab Nebula.

“Pulse” is one of the Numbers Quartet’s offerings. The story receives its inspiration from the Elementary Charge equation. I failed to make to connection between the equation and the story.

 

In, “In Her Arms of Dresden Place” by Damien Walters Grintalis (debut 2/16 and reviewed by Anonymous) a glassblower repairs what appears to be the broken remains of a glass woman and somehow breathes life back into her. The story is about his relationship with the re-animated statue and how his ‘help’ may be contributing to the problem of adjusting that the statue has. I think this story is a metaphor for the heart and mind, and although the metaphor is taken quite literally it works quite well on that level. Nicely written.

 

Tom has the solution to Marla’s allergies in “Nanomite” by Patricia Duffy Novak (debut 2/17 and reviewed by Frank D). Marla’s husband is a bit extrinsic who has a habit of jumping to conclusions and solving paranoid problems with grand schemes. He is sure Marla’s cold is caused by dust mites, but not to fear. The latest technological advancement is guaranteed to solve the problem, for good.

“Nanomite” is told from the perspective of a wife with an excitable husband. Marla sniffles is all the proof he needs to pepper the house with tiny robots to exterminate dust mites. After going a summer without a running nose, the first signs of a cold returns in the fall, spurring a new worry for Marla.

The story is slightly science fiction. It is more of an everyday tale with a small futuristic element inserted to make it fit DSF. Although I enjoyed the voice, I expected a grander resolution to this tale. The ending left me slightly disappointed.

 

“Digital Blues” by Greg Mellor (debut 2/20 and reviewed by James Hanzelka) starts as a wistful siren’s call. It beckons the reader to come visits old places, feelings. The passion and feelings are laid bare, as if the teller wants to show us how entwined the two of us are. Slowly it is the depth of an algorithm’s love for its mainframe that is revealed as the two lover’s quest for fulfillment.

This story started out almost as verse, but without any underlying meter. It was as if Shakespeare wrote in a mixture of prose and mathematics, but lacked a soul. The story pulled me in by unraveling the twine. But alas, it was not to be, for the ending did not live up to the promise of the beginning. The strong foundation laid by the earlier passion was weakened by the tepid ending. It was a piece of such promise left unfulfilled.

 

A pilot crashes on the home planet of a race his force is keeping imprisoned by blockade in “The Prisoners” by D.K. Latta (debut 2/21 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). He is remarkably uninjured, but is held captive by the reptilians that are his hated enemy. While the elder being set to watch him seems unthreatening, the pilot knows their true nature. Though he is uninjured, the pilot cannot move; he cannot imagine how the telepathic race has bound him. If he could free himself Chanthrow would kill his captor with his bare hands and escape. The price for his release may be too high to pay, the truth often is.

This is an excellent story of how our perception can be colored by prejudice, whether it is of our making or not. The story does a good job of drawing us in spite of a few strange word choices, such as “.., like a wave slamming him against the surf.” This phrasing caused me to stumble once or twice. These few minor glitches aside, the writing is clear and crisp, the underlying theme timeless. One of the best I’ve read on this site.

 

An imaginary friend seeks a purpose in “Nilly” by Benjamin Rosenbaum (debut 2/22 and reviewed by Frank D). The boy who imagined Nilly has died. Now the imaginary child wishes to attach someone new.

“Nilly” is a small tale within a far larger, yet unknown, story. Something awful happened to Nilly’s creator. Somehow, Nilly is responsible. An effort to attach himself to the boys sister goes all wrong and now Nilly is left alone.

I am not sure what was going on in this tale, but in a good way. The unanswered questions left me wanting for more. Not knowing the entire story inhibits me from giving this intriguing story a full recommendation. However, I feel as if there is enough to this brief universe to warrant a greater work of art.

 

A boy finds a treasure from a dead civilization in “Saurus” by John Van Pelt (debut 2/23 and reviewed by Frank D). The book he brings to his clan he hopes is filled with stories. The words within are eloquent but does it hold the treasure he is after?

I found this brief tale curious but nothing more.

 

“Bus Ride to Mars” by Cat Rambo (debut 2/24 and reviewed by Frank D). Djuna boards a bus headed to Paradise. The bus to Mars is a five-day journey with many stops along the way. The passengers are just as intriguing as the bus’s multiple destinations.

“Bus Ride” is a people watchers tale. Djuna doesn’t want to go to Mars, or get to know her fellow passengers, but the odd people on the bus tell their own tales within earshot of Djuna. The passengers on the bus are as odd as the alien bar in Star Wars.

I confess, I am befuddled on the point of this tale. The cast of characters are a mish-mash of competing genres and are as odd as the aliens in the bar scene in Star Wars. The passengers sound more shallow than interesting to me. Djuna, the protagonist, I’m guessing would agree with me. The entire story left me confused because I was never sure if Djuna had passed and ‘Paradise’ was indeed heaven (the unanswered question of why heaven would be on Mars makes me believe otherwise). The bulk of the tale are tracks of sidebar stories the passengers tell, which made me wonder if “Bus Ride” was a retelling of the Canterbury Tales. Whether it was or not matter little. The real attraction to this piece is Ms Rambo’s ability to compile an array of odd individuals with random tales and turn it into a single story.

 

“Storytellers” by Jen Brubacher (debut 2/27 and reviewed by Frank D). Beatrice and Gary have stories to share. The pair compete to tell about the extraordinary events of their day.

“Storytellers” is a dual perspective narrative of two tale-weavers. Beatrice has the ability of making mundane events sound compelling while Gary’s astounding tale has a way of coming out humdrum. Gary’s ghost tale proves to be far more interesting than even he imagined but Beatrice’s boring story may end up one-upping him in the end.

Like Ms Brubacher’s characters, I have two different reactions to this piece. I found the overall premise of “Storytellers” to be silly. It took an extraordinary right turn that (in my opinion) cheapened the greater tale. The story’s final lineâ€

“Well, that makes sense.”â€

â€I couldn’t have disagreed with more. The real draw to this piece was Ms Brubacher’s portrayal of two polar opposites through different perspectives. I enjoyed following along while one character listened and judged the other while they told their exciting tale. A true jewel of a gift for the author to bring characters to life like that. If it wasn’t for the way the tale ended, I would have given this story an enthusiastic recommendation.

 

Anna needs one last operation for her to achieve immortality in “The Procedure” by L.E. Elder (debut 2/28 and reviewed by Frank D). Her last biological component , her brain– is defective. She is one of the last of the bio-residued beings , or humans , left. Her daughter is eager for her to become Alltech. Only ten percent of her components are bio, what could she possibly miss if she were to ditch the last of it.

There is a curious moral to “The Procedure”. Anna was an early advocate for cyborg rights. The opposition gradually gave way, not because they were swayed but rather because they died out and while the techno-enhanced lived on. The ‘people’ in this story have lost all their humanity but have retained their consciousness. Anna is the unique position of realizing the people she opposed ended up being prophetically correct.

I liked this tale a lot. “The Procedure” put a price on immortality, the fare being the loss of your soul. But the ‘people’ in this tale don’t care, having likely lost the sense of the true value of what they once possessed. The author in this tale established the fine line of where humanity strides and where being human ends.

I found this story to be thought provoking , what science fiction is all about.

Recommended.

 

“The Princess of the Perfumed River” by Aliette de Bodard (debut 2/29 and reviewed by Frank D). Thein has been waiting for Kim. She left two years before to investigate the Artifact , an alien vessel in space. She is back on Earth but so distant she might as well be light years away.

This tale is part of the number quartet series. The in feels left behind, hoping Kim will be the one to save him. Her distance leads him to believe she will never come back, but he may have misunderstood why she is so far away. Distance isn’t always one person’s inability to separate. Sometimes it may be one person’s inability to find their way back.

The theme to “The Princess” was difficult to decipher. As a fan of several of Ms Bodard’s works, I have become accustomed to the deep nature of her plots. The short narrative did not make this easier to puzzle out. In fact, its brief size made it more difficult. It took a second reading for me to fully grasp this storyline. Even so, I wished more answers would have been available to me.

 

Congratulationsâ€

The Million Writer’s Award is an award for speculative fictions most notable online short stories. To my dismay, only one story from Daily SF made the list, but if you could only pick one story for the award, you couldn’t have gone wrong with Eugie Foster’s “Requiem Duet, Concerto for Flute and Voodoo”. In our September 2011 review I wrote in my recommendationâ€

I first heard of Eugie Foster years ago. A friend told me he read the best story ever in a popular critique group. That story went on to win the Nebula in 2009. If “Requiem” is any indication on how well she writes, you can expect several more awards to come her way in the near future. The story was just plain dynamite. It is the best Friday story I have read at DSF yet.

â€and it is still the best Friday story I have read yet at Daily SF. Although I disagreed strongly with Million Writer’s Award choice last year, I am hoping they will get this one right and choose “Requiem” as their overall choice and give Daily Science Fiction a much deserved feather in its cap.

 

Dave Steffen is editor and owner of this wonderful ezine Diabolical Plots. He recently reached a goal many writers desire, the chance to become a full-fledged member of the Science Fiction Writers of America organization. Congratulations, my friend.