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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Compelling SF #8, August/September 2017

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Compelling Science Fiction #8, August/September 2017

"Emerging from the Shadows" by Clinton Lawrence

"National Mission System" by Matt Fuchs
"The Setting of the Sun" by Benjamin C. Kinney
"Paint by Numbers" by Pip Coen
"The Dirt Dances" by Michael E. Johnson

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

In a recent essay, editor Joe Stech states that his magazine will now refer to its contents as plausible science fiction, as distinguished from hard science fiction. Whether set during the next decade, or an unimaginably long time in the future, all these tales attempt to make their scientific and technological speculations believable.

The lead story, "Emerging from the Shadows" by Clinton Lawrence, takes place sixty years after a group of people hijacked a spaceship and founded a secret colony inside an asteroid. A delegation from Earth comes to visit after the colony is discovered. The descendants of the hijackers disagree over whether this represents a threat or an opportunity. The protagonist is a young woman who must make a major decision about her future when the newcomers arrive. The colonists' environment is richly imagined and seems real. The story is written in a simple, calm style, with only one melodramatic event which seems out of place. The main character is twenty years old, but acts more as if she is in her early teens. Overall, this story seems best suited for young adult readers.

Back on Earth only a dozen or so years from now, "National Mission System" by Matt Fuchs is narrated by an artificial intelligence which has been designed to reform the government of the United States, which is in crisis. The AI receives a secret message from an unexpected source, leading to changes in the proposals it makes for amending the Constitution. These suggestions are interesting, although it may be difficult to believe that Americans would accept such radical alterations in their political system. Some of the content of this story is clearly based on current events.

Taking place over immense stretches of time, "The Setting of the Sun" by Benjamin C. Kinney deals with a vast entity created by mechanical beings long ago, who were in turn built by human beings, who have been extinct for ages. The entity transforms the sun into a red giant as part of its function, engulfing the inner planets. While disassembling Earth for its resources, it finds an incredibly old source of information about humanity, giving it a new mission. The sheer scale of this imaginative story is awe-inspiring, although it may also make it difficult for the reader to empathize with its inhuman protagonist.

More intimate is "Paint by Numbers" by Pip Coen. A device connects an artist with great visual imagination to a fleet of spaceships, allowing them to achieve decisive victories in an interstellar war. The story deals mostly with her relationship with the scientist who controls the device. The characters seem more real than the war, which feels distant and abstract.

Rounding out the issue is "The Dirt Dances" by Michael E. Johnson. A young boy and an old man in Algeria face poverty and starvation unless they are successful at a particular form of scavenging. The exact nature of their livelihood, which makes this story science fiction, is not revealed until the end. This story is very well written, and one only wishes it had gone on to relate the further adventures of its characters instead of ending so abruptly with its final revelation.

Victoria Silverwolf hopes her reviews are plausible.