Clarkesworld #117, June 2016

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Clarkesworld #117, June 2016

And Then, One Day, the Air was Full of Voices” by Margaret Ronald

Things With Beards” by Sam J. Miller
.identity” by E. Catherine Tobler
The Snow of Jinyang” by Zhang Ran (English translation of Chinese publication)
The Promise of God” by Michael Flynn (reprint, not reviewed)
Pathways” by Nancy Kress (reprint, not reviewed)

Reviewed by Clancy Weeks

In Neil Clarke’s editorial for this issue, “In My Own Way,” he gives us—if not an admonishment, then a strong suggestion—to keep to the positive in reviews. Or, as my daddy would say, “If you don’t have anything good to say…” Unfortunately for me, I have a job to perform—albeit, unpaid—and must call them as I see them. The good news is that nothing in this issue requires me to unsheathe my dagger.

Let’s get to it, then…

In “And Then, One Day, the Air was Full of Voices” by Margaret Ronald, Dr. Kostia, whose mother was one of the original discoverers of the Coronal transmission, receives a signal from the first intelligent race to contact humans. The transmission was more than a signal, though, rewriting terrestrial computers and giving us access to their network—their version of the world-wide web. For decades humans have interacted with, read, and studied these alien conversations from 400 light-years away. Dr. Kostia, however, has discovered a heartbreaking pattern in the Coronal infospace, and only her screw-up of a son, Wallace, seems to grasp the significance.

This is a wonderfully depressing story of the death of a civilization, but, more importantly, the birth of hope. Ronald deftly weaves the details of the protagonist’s life with the trajectory of the Coronals, and reminds me of the STNG episode, “The Inner Light.” Very good and worth the read.

Sam J. Miller‘s “Things With Beards” is a continuation of John Carpenter’s The Thing. While the Carpenter movie from 1982 stays relatively true to John Campbell’s original “Who Goes There?,” Miller’s story is more closely related to the movie. MacReady is rescued and returns to the US, but soon finds much of his memory missing. Worse, he is now suffering from periods of blackouts, not knowing what he has done or where he has been during those times. He fears he might be a Thing, with that part of him hiding his actions from his human half.

Okay, I’ll admit, I had a problem with this at first. The ending of the movie was perfect in my opinion, Carpenter himself never releasing the alternate ending where MacReady and Childs are rescued. The second problem was, why would Miller make these two characters Gay? Sure, there were no women in the movie for the characters to interact with, so their sexuality was unremarked upon and ambiguous, but the film contained no outright clues to indicate they were anything other than straight heterosexual males. It wasn’t until the very end of this story that I finally understood the central point Miller was making—what The Thing, itself did —with this one change. Masks. Those masks that we wear every day, hiding our true selves from even the people we love. Very well done, and recommended.

.identity” by E. Catherine Tobler is an SF tale of Daidala, the embodied AI for the colony ship, Peragro, and she is infected with a virus. The mystery is who, on a colony ship 150 years from Earth, and only weeks away from arrival at their new home, would want to endanger the ship? Beware the “woman scorned,” and all that…

Nicely written, but a bit clichéd. Tobler is a gifted writer, so I kept expecting deeper layers of meaning, but was ultimately left with a SF version of Fatal Attraction.

The Snow of Jinyang” by Zhang Ran is an alternate history SF story about the long siege and eventual sacking of the city of Jinyang in China, circa 979 CE. Young Zhu Dagun has been recruited to either convince Prince Lu of the East City Institute to join conspirators in a surrender, or kill him. Prince Lu, though, is not what he appears to be. Arriving in the city a pauper, he quickly advances to power by offering many new wonders to Emperor Liu Jiyuan and his people such as “Ray-Bans” and “the internet.”

This is another one of those stories I wish I had the chops to write. Even without fully understanding the histories involved, the story is clear and fun. The lesson being that time does not like being messed with, and even alternate histories resist change.

Clancy Weeks is a composer by training, with over two-dozen published works for wind ensemble and orchestra, and an author only in his fevered imagination. Having read SF/F for nearly fifty years, he figured “What the hell, I can do that,” and has set out to prove that, well… maybe not so much. His first short story, “Zombie Like Me,” will appear in an upcoming issue of Stupefying Stories. He currently resides in Texas, but don’t hold that against him.