Clarkesworld #113, February 2016

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Clarkesworld #113, February 2016

The Fixer” by Paul McAuley
That Which Stands Tends Toward Freefall” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
In the Midst of Life” by Nick Wolven
Between Dragons and Their Wrath” by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky

Reviewed by Bob Blough

Clarkesworld for February is an interesting issue. One story takes place far away in time and space. The other three take place in various versions of Southwest Asia.

Paul McAuley tells the story about a defective AI sent with a human contingent and lots of human embryos to set up a colony on a far off planet. The AI has been injured (we find out how as the story moves on) and has endeavored to fulfill its programming to the best of its ability with the exigencies on the targeted planet. Another more advanced AI gives a visit to determine what has happened after 500 years. “The Fixer” as a title could be considered as being either AI by the time the conclusion rolls around. This is a short and taut SF mystery between two AI’s.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew has written a straightforward story set in Thailand within the next ten years or so. In “That Which Stands Tends Toward Freefall” Rinthara, one of the imprinted minders of the first AI to be born (named Phiksunee) is no longer working with the project. Rinthara is brought back by her ex-lover and former commander to help Phiksunee with the presence of an extremely belligerent AI developed in America. It alternates the story of constructing the AI and the problem at hand. The old spy, her lover/commander and her AI “child” must face the past and the future together. This is an excellent piece of work. Usually Sriduangkaew is much too rococo in style for my taste in her stories. This one is stripped down and deadly.

Again we are in Southeast Asia for Nick Wolven’s “In the Midst of Life.” This one takes place in Northern Sumatra and might even be taking place today. Doug Lam is writing his field report as Lead Site Investigator for a big company in America. This company is exploring the place in the hope of building another American style resort along the coast. To do this they must destroy a building containing 500 to 900 squatters. Doug is brought in to manage the problem as the previous crews sent in to smooth the way have never come back. I can’t reveal why or exactly what is in this building but it involves an American neuroscientist named Abdul Shah. This is a very well written story that moves along smartly until almost at the end we get an info dump about Shah’s life. While this is interesting, the dump just stops the forward momentum of the story. It needed to be integrated in a different way – or excised – for the story to work at its best. But it is still an excellent story. I really look forward to reading more by this author.

The third story set in Southeast Asia is a magical version of one of those war torn countries. Domei is a Rho. Rho is unfortunately between two warring countries called Ande′ and Zhie. Rho was devastated in the past by Ande′ driving their dragons through Rho to attack Zhie. In the world of “Between Dragons and Their Wrath” by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky, dragons are real and more dangerous than any other kind of dragon I have ever read of. The blood of a dragon will change you beyond belief, dragon’s scales can kill you or turn you into an ever-burning person. People in this refugee camp have two tongues or feet on backwards or have gone crazy. Domei finds dragon scales for a living. She has been changed into a neutered human being by the residue of dragons. Her friend has never been dragon-touched. This is the chronicle of a few days in their lives in this camp destroyed by foreign powers. It is a very powerful story with obvious connections to the world we live in today. I applaud the authors.

Southeast Asia seems to be the place in this issue – and for most of us in America it is as alien as another planet. Therefore the frisson of these stories is doubly exciting. Give me more SF from around the world. It can only enrich our genre.