Clarkesworld Year Four, part two
Posted September 20, 2013on:
I’m randomly working my way through the Clarkesworld Year Four anthology, which includes all the original fiction the magazine published in their fourth year. This is the second post in the series, click here for the first post.
The more I read in this anthology, the more I enjoy it. The stories are relatively short, mostly around 9-12 pages, perfect tasty nuggets of strangeness. I’ve linked each story back to Clarkesworld, so you can head over there and read the ones that catch your attention.
Today I’ll be talking about short fiction from Richard Parks, Brenda Cooper, Robert Reed, and Melissa Lingen.
Night, in Dark Perfection by Richard Parks – The Faerie Queen insists that everyone attend her parties. Anyone who doesn’t come willingly, will be forced, or perhaps the entire party will have to be cancelled. Elsewhere, the Captive Princess is trying to escape. Something very strange is going on, there is something skewed and not quite right about these characters right from the start. They have both been alone for a very, very long time even though the kind and gentle voice of the Palace speaks to both of them. The Captive Princess hears strange voices while she is exploring her prison, but for once, these voices do not belong to the Palace, or any of the usual residents. For you see, the Faerie Queen and the Captive Princess are AIs (or at least, that was my interpretation of them) on a derelict ship, and the ship has been discovered by salvagers. Did the ship’s mind create them, in an attempt to stave of insanity, or perhaps as friends, other voices to talk to in the void?
The Grandmother-Granddaughter Conspiracy by Marissa Lingen – After reading a bunch of really weird stories, it was nice to come across one that was so easy to get into. This story is straight up science fiction and feels rather mainstream compared to many of the other stories I’ve read so far. Hannah is a xenobiologist on the small human colony on Delta Moncerotis Four. She’s studying the native cephalids, in hopes of finding them at least somewhat intelligent. If they are classified as animals, the colony will be allowed to expand and push the cephalids out of some of their natural habitats. Hannah’s homelife is no easier. She lives with her daughter, Lily, and her mother Dee. Dee is getting on in years, and depends on a memory implant. In fact, when Dee unplugs her implant, she barely recognizes her family members, and it often falls her granddaughter Lily to convince her to plug herself back in. It’s become so difficult, that Hannah’s husband (Lily’s father) moved out when he got sick of having to prove to the local constable that this was in fact, his house, and no, he wasn’t trying to burgle his own mother-in-law. I liked this story because it was easy to get into, I liked it because Hannah is certainly living a SFnal life, but she deals with completely mundane things with her family. No matter how far we get out into the stars, everyone will still have children who turn into sneaky teenagers, and everyone will still have parents who get Alzheimers.
The Cull by Robert Reed – Every space station must have a doctor. First, we tried very large space stations, thousands of people who agreed to live together. They were disasters. The solution, we found, was much smaller communities, less that two hundred people, the size of a small village. One doctor is enough when you have so few people. But a doctor doesn’t really do anything useful when they aren’t doctoring, so station doctors are androids who work for the station. The narrator of our story is one such doctor. As he puts it,
“My patient is the station and the parts of of its precious body”.
The doctor does everything he can to keep the station and it’s inhabitants healthy, including manipulating everyone into being friendly and happy all the time, and culling and cutting out the pieces that harm the whole. Orlando is one such child destined to be culled, and the populace gets an almost sexual thrill out of the culling event. But the doctor needs Orlando to come willingly, he’s been practicing his lying all this time to make culling easier for everyone involved. The story has very creepy HAL-9000 meets The Lottery vibe. The doctor makes sure everyone thinks he is their servant, but that’s not the case at all. Even creepier, we find out the true reason for the culling, and it is horrible, but necessary for the survival of the station. I’ve not read a lot of Reed’s fiction, but I’ve enjoyed everything of his that I’ve come across.
My Father’s Singularity by Brenda Cooper – When Paul was a child, his father always told him he’d be the first generation of new humans. They were a farming family in the Pacific Northwest, and even though Paul’s father knew he’d never leave his orchards, he always optimistically looked forward to the future. When Paul grows up, he goes to the city for an education, and sends all his income home, to keep the farm going. He does very well for himself, scientifically learning how to slow and sometimes stop the aging process. In a sense, it’s as if all of Paul’s genetic research is so he can stop time for his father, so his father can always have his orchards, always have a sleepy dog at his feet, always be exactly where he wants to be. I think everyone has experienced that moment where they see their parents perfectly happy, and no one wants that moment to end. But time doesn’t slow, and time is cruel, and time takes everything from us, and time doesn’t care. I have a thing for complicated melancholy, so I loved this one. If you read this one and The Grandmother-Granddaughter Conspiracy back-to-back, I recommend having tissues handy.