Tor.com, April 2019
“One/Zero” by Kathleen Ann Goonan
(Stories reviewed by Mike Wyant, Jr., Jason McGregor, and Victoria Silverwolf)
“One/Zero” by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Reviewed by Mike Wyant Jr.
“One/Zero” is a beautiful story. It follows the paths of Vida, a 17-year-old girl who survives her house being bombed, and Mai, an aging social justice expert who has lost her way. Separately, the stories are individual critiques of the reach and breadth of AI and SI (superintelligence) and their effects, for good and ill, on the world.
Ultimately, through a wonderfully woven tapestry of minute tweaks and changes, the SI, fondly named Ezo by Vida’s young brother, Mai is brought to Vida in an optimistic attempt to save the world.
The depth of theme and complexity of introspection threaded through this story defies my attempts to summarize in a meaningful fashion. This story is polished in a way I rarely see and the payoff, replete with balloons, is worth every word.
Mike Wyant, Jr. is an ex-IT guy, who has finally committed to a writing life out in the Middle of Nowhere, New York.
“Painless” by Rich Larson
Reviewed by Jason McGregor
The person who will be known as Mars in adulthood is born with a genetic mutation which makes him unable to feel physical pain. This makes him a candidate for a procedure to be fused with an engineered organism which gives him powers such as extremely enhanced healing. When that goes well, he is trained to be a killing machine. But there are multiple forms of pain and not all can heal as easily as the fingers he cuts up in order to feed stray dogs.
Coming soon to a theater near you! This does indeed have a cinematic SF superhero quality and the ending puts tremendous strains on credibility as such things often do but the time-lapsing background narrative interwoven with the foreground action strand combine to produce a powerful portrait full of vivid images and powerful concerns.
More of Jason McGregor’s reviews can be found at Featured Futures.
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
A pair of stories involving strange happenings in the everyday, modern world offer very different versions of what might happen after death.
“Blue Morphos in the Garden” by Lis Mitchell begins with a striking image. An elderly woman, as she is dying, slowly turns into a flock of butterflies. We soon find out that all members of her family change into living things, or inanimate objects, at the time of death. The narrator is the mother of the young daughter of the dead woman’s grandson. She refuses to marry the man, although she loves him and lives with him, because this would make her a member of the family, and she wants to die a normal death.
The unusual premise of the story, memorable imagery, and the author’s clear style make for enjoyable reading. The narrator’s desire to avoid post-mortem transformation, never fully explained, makes the reader wonder why she became involved with the family in the first place, and why she remained with the father of her child for any length of time, if the prospect disturbs her so much.
“Mama Bruise” by Jonathan Carroll also opens with a weird happening that grabs the reader’s attention. A woman walking a dog on a leash falls to the ground when the animal lunges away. The bruise that appears on her body after the accident spells out the strange words that appear in the story’s title. A long flashback reveals that this is not the first mysterious event involving the dog. After a series of such incidents, some distressing, some comical, some helpful, the woman figures out that the dog is the reincarnation of her father. It seems that he now possesses magical powers, but his mind is disturbed. The woman and her husband eventually decide that the dog is an anomaly, not typical of the reincarnation process, leading to a grim ending.
The story’s change of mood from whimsical to frightening, and its mixture of family drama with fantasy, make it a unique work, but one that is not completely satisfying. The odd things caused by the dog seem arbitrary, weakening the suspension of disbelief.
Victoria Silverwolf has been binge-watching Get Smart recently.