April 29, 2024

Review: Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 211

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 211 Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 211 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another good issue of Clarkesworld, with four outstanding stories and one story that I thought was....kinda weird, but still notable.

We start out with the longest story in the issue, Rich Larson's novella "The Indomitable Captain Holli." Now Rich Larson can be hit or miss with me; he tends towards the cyberpunk in his stories, and I can only tolerate so much of that. But while this story starts out with a cyberpunk narrative and setting, it gradually reveals what it really is: a post-apocalyptic story of survival, with what may be the last humans on earth living in two giant towers (think Burj Khalifa-size) in a ruined city, guarded--and preyed upon--by the AIs and robots in each opposing tower. The primary viewpoint character is six-year-old Holli, who takes turns being cute and being a little sociopath. It's a deft, risky characterization.

On the other end of the length spectrum, the delightful "Occurrence at 01339," by Kelly Jennings, comes in at only 1800 words but packs a helluva lot into a few pages. This little story explores the search for sentience and how it would be defined. Ruby the mining bot is trying to answer that very question, proposed by an alien probe under the threat of human destruction if she cannot satisfy it in 10 queries. There's a nice O. Henry style twist at the end.

"An Intergalactic Smuggler's Guide to Homecoming," by the fine new writer Tia Tashiro, is a crisis of conscience of sorts, as the titular Miko smuggles seven hundred intelligent thumbnail-size aliens out of their home system, where one bioluminescent faction of the Xellia are being targeted for extinction in their civil war. When she delivers her cargo and discovers why the client really wants them (for a "potent psychoactive" they naturally produce, the extraction of which will cause the death of all the aliens), she bolts with the Xellia. Her quest to save them dovetails with her reunion with her estranged twin sister Rina.

The novelette "The Arborist," by Derrick Boden, is a bit of a mythological horror story, set on an alien planet being terraformed by a "vast solitary organism," genetically modified, which will wipe out the nasty native life and prepare the planet for the arrival of humans from Earth. But some of the team members on the planet supervising the organism's progress begin to have second thoughts about their mission, naming the organism after the mythological "world tree" Yggdrasil, and calling it a "plague" that will eventually spread along with humans to other worlds and exterminate all life. This story has a bit of a philosophical divide and struggle, pitting human survival against the survival of other life, and whether humans have any right to wipe out other life, intelligent or not, to save themselves.

Finally, the aforementioned weird story, "The Rambler," by Shen Dacheng, translated by Cara Healey, is the fantastical tale of a pedestrian bridge that comes to life, pulls its four concrete supports, like legs, out of the ground, and walks off. We follow it as it learns to maneuver its "body" and flees into the wilderness. I guess this story could be called "magical realism," perhaps, as this one essential strangeness is just accepted by everyone in the story. While those following the bridge intend to disassemble it if they can make it stand still long enough, it eventually fords a river and escapes.

As always, if you like these stories, or this magazine, please subscribe. Amazon's Kindle fuckery, explained here, resulted in the magazine (and many others) taking what could be a crippling hit. I've subscribed to this magazine for years, and it is worth saving.

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