January 8, 2021

Review: Clarkesworld Magazine October 2020, #169

Clarkesworld Magazine, October 2020, #169 Clarkesworld Magazine, October 2020, #169 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one's a keeper. There are some good stories in here.

"Callme and Mink," Brenda Cooper

An apparent post-apocalyptic future where a robot is raising and training puppies to give to humans, to help them survive. It's short, but thoughtful and layered. 

Grade: B+

I've noticed this author's name popping up more and more, as the author of quiet, sometimes sad, reflective stories that are really good. This is one of them. The protagonist, Dora, an older woman, is visiting the countryside after the death of her lover, taking an artificial skin to a farm run by an android caring for a group of sentient harvester robots. There are some compelling themes here, in the robots who love being told stories, who hold a funeral for one of their companions who is irretrievably broken in an accident, and the tragedy of their existence: "smart enough to ask questions about life, but unable to find any answers." 

Grade: A

"Wandering Rocks," Gregory Feeley

This is more on the hard-SF end of the spectrum, with a revolution of artificial intelligences on the moons of Neptune. I didn't think the characterization was very good in this one, and it wasn't really my thing.

Grade: C-

"You and Whose Army?" Greg Egan

This might have been my thing, if I understood the ending. I didn't, even after reading it several times. This tale of four neurally linked brothers who share each other's memories, and what happens when one brother tries to extricate himself from their shadow, unplug from the artificial quadruplet, and strike out on his own, only to fall in with an aging billionaire he allows to share his memories, and (so the other brothers think, as they kidnap him to try to save him) eventually his body as well...there seems to be a more compelling story buried somewhere in here, struggling to get out. And I'm sorry, but that ending just bumfuzzled me. 

Grade: D

"Last Wishes," D.A. Xiaolin Spires

This is an emotional, heartfelt tale of a daughter's tribute to her late mother, the final journey to deposit her mother's ashes, and the unlocking of her mother's final puzzle--an urn festooned with hidden holograms of the daughter. I liked it, but it also seemed to drag in the middle.

Grade: C

"All Living Creation," Xiu Xinyu, translated by Elizabeth Hanlon

A short, nasty science fiction/horror story of a brother hunting down his little sister, who left home, leaked her genes online, and ended up getting cloned the world over, used for all sorts of benevolent and not-so-benevolent purposes. The more you read it, the darker and more twisted this story gets, and you realize the true villain is the brother that hunts his sister down and banishes her to a submarine cruising the bottom of the ocean, imprisoning her against her will to "save" her, even as he unleashes a virus that will murder all her clones. 

Grade: B+

"Ashes Under Uricon," Adrastos Omissi

This is another post-apocalyptic robot story (the theme of this issue, it seems). Lottie is a care robot, wandering the earth after a final war when war robots cause the extinction of the human race--and mindlessly fight on long afterwards, shooting anything (large animals, other robots) that moves. This is a sad, melancholy little tale.

Grade: B+

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