Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 165 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There's only five stories in this issue, and with one kinda-sorta exception, they didn't impress me very much. Now I have great respect for Neil Clarke as an editor; most of the time, there's at least one story in every issue that I think is knocked out of the park. This issue....ehhhhh.
"The Iridescent Lake," D.A. Xiaolin Spires
This is a mystery set on as asteroid with a skating rink of "iridescent" intelligent living ice. The protagonist came to live here after the death of their son, whose face and DNA was harvested for false IDs. This story didn't draw me in, and I couldn't really relate to the protagonist.
"How Long the Shadows Cast," Kenji Yanagawa
This had a fairly good setup, with the protagonist Shunzo a linguist who finally returns to Earth (after several decades of time dilation) following his working to decipher an alien language. He is haunted by his lost love, and meets a woman, Chiaki, who is studying "unique electromagnetic patterns associated with individual personalities and how they persist over time." This is a fancy handwaving way of providing a semi-scientific explanation for reincarnation. This story is okay, but the ending is very unsatisfying, at least to me.
"Nine Words for Loneliness In the Language of the Uma'u," M.L. Clark
This story takes a deep dive into the mind and culture of an alien being, an intelligent feline named Awenato. In fact, there are quite a number of finely drawn aliens in this story. Awenato is telling this story to his dead mate and queen, Wene'ss. Unfortunately, this is another story where the ending betrays the setup, as the conclusion sort of dribbles to a vague unsatisfying halt, not sticking the landing at all.
"Optimizing the Path To Enlightenment," Priya Chand
This is a bit of a horror story, with what seem to me to be echoes of 1984, telling the tale of a future world with an all-knowing AI dedicated to "preserving this perfect society, free of possession and pollution and violence, by whatever means necessary." It doesn't have quite the knockout closing line as "He loved Big Brother," but it has that sort of feel.
"Own Goal," Dennard Dayle
This is my tepid favorite of this issue's stories. Leon lives on an orbiting Earth colony, working on advertising pitches to sell war between the various colonies. It's told in a journal format, with each entry headed by the name of an album and group. Pay attention to those names--they're tipoffs to characterization and plot points.
Honorable Mention: "Isolation in Fiction and Reality," Carrie Sessarego. This interesting non-fiction article uses three examples--Mark Watney from The Martian, Colonel Christina Eliopolis from World War Z, and Offred from The Handmaid's Tale to discuss how people are coping with the current pandemic and quarantine measures. It's a nice roundup of coping strategies, and reminds us that we're all in this together: "our mission is to protect each other from illness." Timely and pointed.
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