“Tav” by Dustin Kennedy
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
Editor Joe Stech continues to provide a wide variety of hard SF stories in the fifth issue of Compelling Science Fiction. Settings range from Earth in the near future to deep space many centuries from now, and the concepts explored involve both current and speculative technology, biology, and physics.
Dustin Kennedy opens the issue with his novelette “Tav.” The title character is one of two cofounders of a highly successful company offering virtual reality experiences of a spiritual nature to the public. Tav is cynical about the value of this technology, going so far as to think of its users as “a herd of bland banality.” He also seems to be jealous of the adulation given to his partner, William.
While attending a gala affair at William’s mansion, Tav is taken to a private area. He discovers a computer simulation of William’s dead wife. The encounter raises questions about whether she is real or not, and if this simulation is a loving tribute or a ghoulish farce. It leads to an action on Tav’s part that some may find shocking. The story is effective, although judicious editing could have eliminated a bit of wordiness and repetition. Tav is often an unpleasant character, even if he is shown to be in a happy marriage, and many readers may find it difficult to empathize with him.
“Entangled” by Lars H. Hoffmann creates a novel form of communication through time. A spaceship with one passenger aboard, kept in suspended animation, is accelerated to nearly the speed of light and sent to a distant star. It carries a device containing a particle which is linked, through quantum effects, with a particle on Earth. After a journey lasting centuries of Earth time, but only a handful of years for the passenger and the device, due to the time dilation effect of extremely high velocities, the ship returns to the solar system. The passenger is revived and listens to broadcasts from Earth to determine what progress has been made over the centuries. He is then able to send a short message back in time through the quantum-linked particles, giving the past information about the advances of the future. All of this is just background information, and the plot really begins when the narrator wakes from his long sleep and faces a crisis. This is a story for those who enjoy a great deal of science in their fiction, and who don’t mind large chunks of exposition and a minimum of characterization.
By way of contrast, “X and Y” by Lynn Kilmore is primarily concerned with its characters, with just enough speculative content to qualify it as science fiction. The story is set a dozen years after a genetically engineered virus has killed all women on Earth. In desperation, medical science has made it possible for a man to carry a female child within an artificial womb. The protagonist is the first man to undergo this procedure. A rival medical team from the United States government tries to have him moved to their facility, risking the life of the unborn child. This story makes use of flashbacks and stream of consciousness to take us deep into the mind of the main character. The theme of a pregnant man is not a new one, but it has usually been used for comedy or horror, and not for serious speculation as it is here.
The final story in this issue is “Skychildren” by C. L. Kagmi. A secretive organization has collected young people from Earth and transported them to an asteroid which has been transformed into a viable habitat. Most of the children and adolescents come from lives of desperate poverty, but a few come from backgrounds of wealth and privilege. The protagonist is an undercover police officer assigned to infiltrate the organization. In the guise of a new recruit, she explores the asteroid, meets its biologically altered inhabitants, and eventually confronts its leader. The description of the habitat is fascinating, but the story seems too short for the major changes which take place in the main character. It could serve as the basis for a complete novel.
All the stories are written on a professional level and provide enjoyable reading. I found “X and Y” to be the best, which may be more a matter of personal taste than anything else.
Victoria Silverwolf lives on a wooded hilltop in the southeastern corner of Tennessee with one human and sixteen cats.