Magazine Monday: Clarkesworld, September 2013

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIssue 84 of Clarkesworld begins with “Mar Pacifico” by Greg Mellor, which I found to be one of the two best stories in this issue. It’s hard to resist a story that starts, “A pale dawn spread across the Pacific as my dead mother emerged from the waves.” The first person narrator’s mother is formed by a bloom of algeron. Algeron developed from nanotech built by humans “to bring the carbon cycles back into balance and enhance the power of the oceans to absorb more carbon from the polluted air.” But as it evolved, it overran its safeguards and washed inland, absorbing nearly every living thing on the planet. The narrator and her daughter are the only ones left, so far as they know, and they are slowly starving to death. But the algeron seems to have achieved a sort of consciousness; it is able to assemble itself into a form the narrator recognizes as her mother. Ultimately, the narrator must decide whether to fight the algeron or work with it.

James Patrick Kelly gives us “The Promise of Space,” which appears to be a dialogue between a woman and her husband, a man who has been gravely injured and seems to be reduced to little more than an intelligent database. She is a science fiction writer, he an astronaut. The man knows a lot of data about his life, because he always wore a “cap” — a device that recorded almost everything that happened to him — but he can’t seem to assimilate it, even to reliably remember who his wife is. He even confuses her for her most popular heroine in her novels. As the story continues, we learn the reason for the man’s cognitive deficits, a reason that will come as no surprise to anyone who has read that the chief unsolved problem of a trip to Mars right now is exposure to cosmic radiation. It is an excellent, sad story about a hero, and the consequences of heroism, the other “best” story in this issue.

“One Flesh” by Mark Bourne and Elizabeth Bourne is a long tale about a woman who has allowed her mind — her brain — to be implanted in a medusa, one member of an intelligent species that lives in the atmosphere of Jupiter. And, much like Kelly’s story, it is about the consequences of this exploration to a marriage. It’s a strong hard science fiction story that does not stint on character development.

I really enjoyed Charles Sheffield’s “Out of Copyright,” which is another long story about corporate competition in a world in which cloning is an important aspect of any team of executives. The narrator’s troubleshooting team, for instance, is composed of Wolfgang Pauli, Thomas Edison, Enrico Fermi and John von Neumann. They can solve just about any problem, given enough time, and the only real question is who the next cloned member will be. Robert Oppenheimer? Maybe, though it’s hard to tell who will work out; Albert Einstein was a complete failure, a man who shows amazing ability in chess and music, but has no interest whatsoever in physics or mathematics. The real question is: who has the narrator been cloned from?

Nancy Kress is the author of “First Principle,” about an earth-based human who moves to Mars. The humans who live on Mars have shaped themselves to operate most efficiently in that environment: genes adapted to the level of radiation, gravity and light, causing their bodies to be short and thick, with two sets of arms, one engineered for strength and the other for fine work, ending in flexible tentacles. Their skin is green, with photosynthetic cells to augment the energy they take in from food. It’s no wonder that the sick boy who has just arrived on the planet uses the pejorative term “bugs” to describe them. It certainly makes things difficult between the young woman who has been instructed by her mother to play chess with the boy; his hostility to her is palpable, but she continues because he is dying — as is Earth itself. The story is complicated when the woman discovers what appears to be an alien artifact in the course of excavating a tunnel for transportation between Martian colonies. How will humans adapt to aliens, when they can’t even adapt to variations in their own species? Kress explores the philosophical problems through action, creating a tale that leaves the reader thinking hard about problems of race and gender right here and now.

Mark Cole has a fascinating piece about radio in “Aliens, Robots, Spaceships and . . . Popsicles? SF on American Radio, Then and Now.” I had no idea that SF radio pieces were still being produced — or perhaps one should really say, “produced anew, this time as podcasts.” Cole explores the history of the SF radio drama, and explains why radio is the perfect medium for SF.

Jeremy L.C. Jones interviews Ken Liu, particularly about his work as a translator of Chinese science fiction — an exciting project that may finally bring some Chinese work into the American mainstream. I’m looking forward to reading the results of this hard, complicated work.

Alethea Kontis is the author of “Another Word: I am an Endangered Species.” The “endangered species” of which she speaks is people who fall in love at first sight; she is writing of infatuation, the real joy we can take in a person when we instantly recognize them as fellow travelers of a special sort. But this sort of instant friendship or love, Kontis fears, is disappearing; society no longer believes in it, because it is afraid and has lost hope.

This magazine is for the lover of hard science fiction, fiction based on extrapolation from hard facts we know in the here and now. In my experience, it is very difficult to assemble a magazine that can consistently offer good hard science fiction that doesn’t become bogged down in the type of writing only a scientist can understand. Clarkesworld does it, and has been doing it for almost eight years now.  It’s well worth a look.


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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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