Tor.com, May 2020
“Berlin Is Never Berlin” by Marko Kloos
“Benjamin 2073” by Rjurik Davidson
“Beyond the Dragon’s Gate” by Yoon Ha Lee
“The Tourist” by Alex Sherman
Reviewed by Christos Antonaros
In “Berlin Is Never Berlin” by Marko Kloos, Kahn is a badass bodyguard carrying an augmentation that gives him the lethal characteristics of a tiger. In the “Wild Cards” universe though, being a badass in Chicago doesn’t necessarily mean you are safe to do as you like in a European country, especially when you are up against the Ukrainian mafia. Kahn’s struggle to save his client somewhere in Berlin becomes quickly our struggle, as the author describes in detail the strong emotions that emerge from a threatening setting. Action over action, Kahn fights against augmented villains and thugs. If you are looking to read an action-oriented story, this is the place to be.
“Benjamin 2073” by Rjurik Davidson, narrates the conflict between a bureaucratic futuristic world and Ellie, a scientist who struggles to resurrect the thylacine, an animal extinct since 1936. Ellie’s story reminds us that our persistence, hope, and hardwork can create allies in places we would never have considered possible. A nicely written story of a scientist who comes to realize that sometimes science cannot explain or control the miracle of nature. The author uses relationships to create conflict. First, Ellie against the experiment and its continuous failures; second, Ellie and the people who surround her, and lastly, nature against a controlled environment—a conflict that shapes the plot.
The next story is “Beyond the Dragon’s Gate” by Yoon Ha Lee. There, when Anna Kim is forced by army officials to communicate with a renegade AI—which controls a warship—she discovers that honor is a virtue hidden in the strangest of places. Through an unusual case of protest, the author shows how appreciation and respect should be shown to all war veterans, regardless of their race or substance. However, the story ends abruptly. There is a lot of Anna’s background mentioned and references to her sister that do not payout at the end, thus it is not clear how they add meaning to the plot. Although there is a philosophical value in the final message, the path to reach this message made it feel numb.
In the last story of the month, “The Tourist” by Alex Sherman, we read about the interaction between a human researcher and a “mole,” a humanoid alien race that lives in total darkness on a distant planet. The complete absence of light seems to be the base for a culture with rules and morals so primitive that it will make some readers feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, darkness gives another meaning to beauty and falling in love. It is not love at first sight anymore, it is love with all your senses but seeing. Darkness dominates the setting but doesn’t consume it. The author manages to heighten our senses and make us part of that alien culture. At the same time, though, we do not want to be a part of that alien culture. In the end, with a twist, we [humans] feel responsible for what is happening on that distant planet. This story offers an eerie magnification of nature whose brutality proves that each creature is designed for a specific purpose and it should be left alone.