Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 200, May 2023 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Last month's issue of Clarkesworld was so-so, but this one is stellar. There are five stories here that I would rate as among the best I've read this year, and even the other three, though a cut below, are thought-provoking.
"Better Living Through Algorithms," Naomi Kritzer
Kritzer tends to use AI as a character in her stories; two of her books, Catfishing on CatNet and Chaos on CatNet, feature an artificial intelligence front and center. This story delves into an app, Abelique, that purports to be "for better living." And it seems to do just that--for a while, until its users start to get suspicious of it. It puts a bit of a twist on the author's standard formula, emphasizing the power of human connection.
"Through the Roof of the World," Harry Turtledove
This story is one of two hard-SF stories in the issue (depending on your definition of hard SF, I suppose) about a race of intelligent blind nautilus-like creatures in the oceans of Europa, and what they do when an Earth probe drills through the nine-mile-thick layer of ice to discover a thriving ecosystem. I thought it had a rather abrupt ending, but it just shows the skill of the author in that you want the story to continue.
"Action At a Distance," An Hao, translated by Andy Dudak
This story, originally published in the Chinese magazine Science Fiction World last year, is the second hard-SF story in the issue. It's dense and complex, and will probably take more than one reading (at least it did me) to understand the concepts about consciousness and matter discussed. Some Chinese SF I've read suffers from having thin cardboardy characters, but this story has much better characterization.
"The Fall," Jordan Chase-Young
This is an SF horror story, featuring a genetically engineered forest and creatures on the moon and what happens when a photographer discovers a discarded doll from the Prefall inhabitants.
"To Sail Beyond the Botnet," Suzanne Palmer
This is the latest in a delightful series of stories featuring Bot 9, a small repair bot who has a habit of improvising its way out of all sorts of problems and saving its ship and crew along the way. This novella introduces a fascinating alien race and shakes up Bot 9's world, laying the foundation for more interesting adventures going forward. Also note the title, a takeoff of a Robert A. Heinlein novel.
The second tier of this month's stories didn't quite hit the mark for me as much as the ones above, but they were still worth reading.
"LOL, Said the Scorpion," Rich Larson
Remember the fable of the scorpion and the frog? The scorpion begs the frog to swim him across the river, promising he won't sting. Of course, the scorpion stings the frog, and when the frog asks him why, the scorpion replies, "You knew what I was when you took me aboard." This is an updated cyberpunk version of that fable, with a "holiday suit" that takes protecting its wearer to extreme lengths.
"Sensation and Sensibility," Parker Raglund
This is a kind of talky slice-of-life tale, featuring androids instead of humans. The androids are discussing human senses and emotions, hence the title.
"The Giants Among Us," Megan Chee
This starts out as a sort of science fiction fable, with sleeping giants on a planet that the smaller inhabitants live on (or inside, in the case of one giant's corpse). But then it turns into unexpected themes of exploration, harmony, and hatred of the Other that turns into understanding and friendship. For such a short story, it packs a lot of punch.
There's also an interesting non-fiction article, "Horror and Science Fiction: Genre's Evil Twins", by Carrie Sessarego, that discusses how the two genres can entwine and create something quite potent.
Altogether, this is an excellent issue of Clarkesworld. Now to step momentarily onto my soapbox: due to Amazon's fuckery and cancellation of Kindle subscriptions, genre magazines are shortly going to be in a world of hurt. Please consider subscribing to this excellent magazine. I have subscribed to the print edition for years and it is well worth it. Go here to subscribe.
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