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

Tor.com -- June 2018

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Tor.com, June 2018

Meat And Salt And Sparks” by Rich Larson

Recoveries” by Susan Palwick
The Need for Air” by Lettie Prell

Reviewed by Mark Suplinskas

Meat And Salt And Sparks” by Rich Larson

An enhanced chimpanzee, Cu, has paired up with a human detective, Al Huxley, to solve a murder. The murderer is caught on tape in the act of committing the murder. The question is: why? And, that gets complicated. Who is the real killer here?

The story is told from the viewpoint of Cu, where we learn of the horrors she faced when she was young. Cu is short for cube, where she lived in a lab for the first twelve years of her life. It was an illegal lab. After the lab was discovered and shut down, Cu received a large monetary settlement when her personhood was confirmed in court. She works now because she wants to, not because she has to.

In this society, people can rent themselves out as an Echoboy or Echogirl for their clients. They, in effect, become the client’s ego; telling the client what to do, what to say, how to act, etc. From the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night, the Echo directs their every move. It is an interesting concept.

In the act of solving the crime, Cu discovers more about herself than she really wants to know and faces a terrible choice. I felt her sadness in the end.

A well-written, emotional profile of a one-of-a-kind-being. This one is worth the read.

Recoveries” by Susan Palwick

This is the tale of two unlikely friends: a self-described nerd with an eating disorder and her alcoholic friend. The first part of the story is Kat, the nerd, trying to prevent Vanessa, the alcoholic, from drinking again when Vanessa’s probation is done at midnight on her birthday. It is a nice insight to AA, the Twelve Step program, and the struggles of alcoholics to stay sober, or not.

Both girls have parental issues. Kat has been through several foster homes since she was very young. She doesn’t remember her parents. Vanessa was raised by a set of hands-off hippie parents who are waiting to be abducted by aliens. They finally disappear when Vanessa is eighteen, leaving her to her own devices. She tries to track them down with no success.

Kat finally confronts Vanessa in an unusual way. The final confrontation is the heart of the story. It’s a different take on maintaining sobriety.

The Need for Air” by Lettie Prell

A mother, Lake, has planned and paid for, a new life for herself and her eight-year-old son in an eternal virtual reality. It is an ideal life, no struggle for food or rent, and to go wherever you want to go, wearing whatever body you choose. Your physical body is kept in Sequester until the transition into permanent virtual reality is complete. Then your physical body is cremated.

Lake works occasionally as a Beta tester, not because she must, but because she wants to. AI runs this new reality and seems more and more divorced from the humans they serve, developing their own language for instance. Lake gets indications of this as a Beta tester, interacting with the AI.

But Lake’s hard-won plan is put in jeopardy when her son, Jared, starts to rebel. He keeps returning to Sequester to take up his human body again. Lake does all she can to entice him to stay in virtual reality, finally attempting to lock down his physical body. But he persists, for a surprising and compassionate reason.

This story raises several interesting questions about virtual reality. It is an enjoyable read.