I’ll admit it – I’m completely new to science fiction short stories. Like, completely new. These were my first. And let me tell you, I know how much I’ve been missing out.
The July 2018 issue of Clarkesworld has five wonderful pieces of short fiction, each brilliant in its own way. Drop below the robot to read more about artificial intelligence, space travel to other worlds, and more!
Gubbinal, by Lavie Tidhar
The author drops into the midst of the hills of Titan, following a scavenger in search of tiny artifacts left behind by reproducing robots. They’re these quirky little things that manipulate matter and random objects into these tiny sculptures that make no sense. Totally random and I love it.
The story ultimately looks at the possibilities of a universe filled with semi-connected colonies and civilizations. We see the robotic fauna in Titan. We see a modified animal-woman hybrid, part of the attempts to make humans adapt to the harsh climates of other planets. Picturing a 5-foot tall walking ermine is definitely strange and humorous. There are pirates with nuke cannon balls (seriously, so awesome). There are crazy planets that are a little loopy out in the middle of nowhere. There’s a mysterious religion that the tiny robots potentially are a part of.
My only complaint is that I feel like this is a preview of a longer book that I’d really like to read. As it’s own story, it doesn’t seem to stand alone as well as the other stories in this volume. I loved it, but I feel a bit let down by this brilliant world building that didn’t go beyond these few pages.
Concepts: Space Travel, Colonization, Genetic Modification, Robots, Religion, Space Pirates
A Gaze of Faces, by Mike Buckley
A brilliant look at a future where humanity lives buried under the surface of a frozen planet, their grungy existence consistently in jeopardy as they murder each other over nothing and drink their lives away. I was impressed at how complete this story was – the author was able to give a full backstory, paint a detailed picture of the current predicament, and give us a surprising, and tragic, plot twist that leaves these settlers questioning their existence. Complete with a complex technology that allows ‘divers’ to look into the past through data banks, and a strange parasite that latches onto people’s faces and replaces their skin with a smooth and youthful finish. The back story is well thought out, with a toss-in of AI and a world at war with robots.
Concepts: Space Travel, Colonization, Warfare, Artificial Intelligence, Virus, Dystopia
The James Machine, by Kate Osias
A heartrending and fun look at leaving a piece of yourself behind in a machine. A wife loses her husband to cancer and, to her surprise, he has programmed himself into the AI that runs their house. Think of it as Smart House with a soul (if you haven’t seen this Disney Original Movie, I pity you). She begins to grapple with living a life with an AI as her constant companion and a date via phone at a restaurant shows her that it’s just a sad facsimile of the man she misses dearly. Overall, it’s a small look into death and the need to accept that no copy is the same as the real thing, no matter how detailed or coded. It’s a quick, quasi-scientific glimpse at the capabilities of an AI to help a person overcome grief.
Concepts: Artificial Intelligence, Technology, Death, Illness, Programming
For What are Delusions if Not Dreams?, by Osahon Ise-Iyamu
This was a confusing one for me. I find it hard to articulate the plot, but I was impressed with the language used and the narrative voice adopted by the primary character. It’s rushed and imperfect and constantly jumping from thing to thing as this semi-human (but also AI) tries to make a potentially life-threatening decision. He flies back to old memories, he argues and distracts and panics about the choice before him and all of that comes through in the language. This is definitely the most experimental of the pieces in this volume.
Concepts: Neuroscience, Telecommunications, Artificial Intelligence
To Fly Like a Fallen Angel, by Qi Yue, translated by Elizabeth Hanlon
This story was mindblowingly good. It’s a dark dystopia apocalypse that starts off as a day in the life of a modern city, buried underground because of a nuclear holocaust. By the end, it’s a tale of human survival against an unknown enemy, with horrible implications on the future of the human race and the strange systems required to keep these survivors alive. It is a brilliant piece of short fiction, complete in its story, its plot arc, and the narrative flow.
Concepts: Dystopia, Apocalypse, Nuclear Holocaust, Future, Hacking, Space Travel, Artificial Intelligence