Clarkesworld Magazine #167, August 2020 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This issue of Clarkesworld had a really odd cover. I gather that's supposed to be a monk? I kind of wish this illustration had inspired a story inside the magazine. That might have been better than some of the stories we got.
"The Lori," Fiona Moore
This story can be summed up in its first sentence: "The problem with sentient battle tanks are their drivers." Unfortunately, the battle tank in question, Kursk, didn't seem all that sentient to me. Another sentence further along in the story: "The tank stopped, like a dog scenting the wind," was pretty accurate in terms of its purported intelligence. It would have been nice if Kursk had been better developed as a character, but considering the ending, I guess that wouldn't have worked.
"Drawing Lines Between the Stars," Frank Smith
Bex, engineer of the transport hauler Bakunawa, helps answer a distress call from the solar glider Aldebaran and brings it on board for repairs. Unfortunately, his unintentional negligence leads to the death of the pilot, Adena, and very nearly his own, and he's fired....err, "prematurely retired" from his job. This is a neat little story of change, responsibility, and making the best of what life hands you.
"The Plague," Yan Leisheng, translated by Andy Dudak
(According to the endnotes, this was originally written and published in 2002, so long before our current Plague Year. Still, it's damn eerie.)
This plague virus is silicon-based, rather than carbon, and turns people to living statues. The narrator, a "Crow," a person who gathers up the infected and incinerates them, comes to realize they're not dead at all--they're just another form of life. At the end, the story takes a time jump of six thousand years, and ends on a bit of a horrific note.
"An Important Failure," Rebecca Campbell
This story tackles climate change through the lens of a violin maker, hunting for the wood to make his final instrument. Wood that won't be available any longer, now that the world has reached five hundred ppm. It's about finding meaning and beauty in a dying, changing world, and though the general tone is sad and bittersweet, it does end on a hopeful note.
"The Immolation of Kev Magee," L.X. Beckett
Another climate change story, near-future verging on cyberpunk, with a lot of incorporated internet lingo (which grew tiresome after a while). Breeze and Keisha, freelance videographers, are trying to find a home for Alice, the baby they were stuck with in the wreckage of Detroit. This story didn't impress me very much.
"Nameless He," Robert Reed
I've tried to read Robert Reed's stories before and never really clicked with them. This is another: a far-future hard SF tale of a galaxy-wandering, planet-sized Great Ship and the artificial intelligence tasked to study it. The ending doesn't make any sense at all, as far as I was concerned.
Honorable Mention: "Boxtops, Secret Rings, and Space Helmets: Those Brave Spacemen of the Videowaves," Mark Cole
A fascinating study of the very first television space opera serials, done live at the dawning of the TV age, 1949-1955.
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