Clarkesworld #199, April 2023

Clarkesworld #199, April 2023

“Re/Union” by L Chan

“Rake the Leaves” by R. T. Ester

“Happiness” by Octavia Cade

“The Librarian and the Robot” by Shi Heiyao (translated by Andy Dudak)

“There Are the Art-Makers, Dreamers of Dreams, and There Are AIs” by Andrea Kriz

“Keeper of the Code” by Nick Thomas

“Stranger Shores” by Gregory Feeley

“Voices Singing in the Void” by Rajan Khanna

Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett

The 199th issue of Clarkesworld contains eight stories, including two novelettes. There are several terrific stories in this issue.

“Re/Union” by L Chan

This short science fiction story takes place in a future China. Sharon is the eldest child, so she’s organizing the annual New Year celebration with her deceased ancestors. Several black plastic Shen Pai represent her mother, uncles, and aunt, each imbued with a computer algorithm to match the habits of the actual deceased relative.

The ritual meal follows its expected course, even to the point where Sharon serves her mother’s signature dish. Sharon’s mother died suddenly before passing on the recipe. So each year Sharon tries to duplicate it, and each year her mother says it’s close but not the same. Only this year, Sharon reacts differently to the bitter disappointment of her mother’s response.

This story began slowly but ended with some poignant moments.

Rake the Leaves” by R. T. Ester

A man known as the professor drags his neighbor Bodie into a conspiracy in this SF short set in a dystopian future. Bodie listens to the professor’s story about similar parallel universes passing information about the future through recorded songs.

If the authorities discover they are trying to uncover the future, they will have their memories wiped. But the professor fears the government is closing in, so before they arrest him, he leaves a strange clue if Bodie can decipher it.

The author created a mysterious and hard-to-follow story that eventually resolved into a common SF trope.

Happiness” by Octavia Cade

Set in a post-climatic dystopia, this SF novelette explores ways people can still die happy. Whether it’s by murder, disease, or merely giving up, there are ways it can be a happy ending for the deceased.

Each scenario explores the reasons for dying from an intimate perspective, revealing how these things can happen as the world falls into chaos, starting with the poorer countries.

The prose was easy to read and find oneself immersed in, though there wasn’t a storyline in the usual sense of the word.

The Librarian and the Robot” by Shi Heiyao (translated by Andy Dudak)

After the Star Confed wars destroy her home world, the Curator steals a spaceship to fly to the now-abandoned Earth. She sets about restoring the massive Central Library that is partially collapsed from the ice age that grips humanity’s home planet.

She finds a damaged warrior robot and restores it to a more docile role. It becomes her companion as they rebuild the library or search the planet for books to fill the shelves. But in time, the Curator grows old as humans do. Soon the robot will have to decide what to do without a human master.

The author’s story was light and very readable.

There Are the Art-Makers, Dreamers of Dreams, and There Are AIs” by Andrea Kriz

Juno lives in the future in this short SF tale set after the GenAI craze ended. The Generative AI’s of the 2020’s almost led to the destruction of human art. But the laws in 2046 barred it, letting human artists once more control their art. But the aftermath left just a few artists in control of original art, and any new artist must license their work from one of these original Makers.

Juno is a new artist trying to get her work accepted by a famous Maker so she can make a living. But the Maker rejects her work that took years to create. It leaves Juno searching for something truly unique. When her house AI offers help, she refuses it out of hand, claiming it was the AI’s that caused the issue originally. But then she realizes this is a limited view of art.

The author created a curious exploration of how art could evolve in the world of AI.

Keeper of the Code” by Nick Thomas

In this thought-provoking short SF story, Keeper finds some unexpected data that passed through the filters. Keeper has a unique role in this colony; he interfaces directly with Code which controls most of the colony. When Keeper discovers the data came from Planet 1, he orders Code to delete it.

His decision sits heavily with Keeper as he fears he has destroyed something important. But his lover agrees with the decision to delete it. Still, Keeper worries, so he finds a way to reconstitute the data before he reads snippets from it. What he finds there stirs up the colony and puts his life at risk.

This mysterious tale was hard to put down as it painted a dire picture of life on humanity’s first planetary home.

Stranger Shores” by Gregory Feeley

Once a human in this SF novelette, it evolves beyond human understanding into an intangible energy entity on Neptune. Over the passing millennia, it visits the places of its origin. One place at which it stops is a massive spaceship docked around Neptune. Eons ago, people abandoned the idea of terraforming a planet. Instead, they build earth-like ships to inhabit for generations.

It visits Earth and finds the people have regressed over hundreds of millennia into people indistinguishable from those at the dawn of humanity. It observes all the changes as humanity slowly destroys itself. But it doesn’t care as it waits for the sun to burn itself out.

The story described a dismal future for humanity as it remained locked in its solar system. But there wasn’t much of a story in the lengthy descriptions, making for a slow read.

Voices Singing in the Void” by Rajan Khanna

The Architect sends out its Worker drones to build the Settlement on a distant planet in this short SF story. All this is done for the People who will come when the Settlement is ready. Similar architects are building settlements on different planets, each waiting for the People to arrive.

Many architects encounter difficulties, and when they do, they send warnings or pleas for help back to the master, called the Conductor. But the Conductor doesn’t reply.

The author’s story was a curious view of humanity’s diaspora and how it might turn out.

You can follow Kevin P Hallett’s writing on There are links there to join his mailing list for a weekly newsletter on the recent release of his third novel, Journeyman Wizard.