Clarkesworld #131, August 2017

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Clarkesworld #131, August 2017

“Twisted Knots” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (golem, puppets, Chinese)

“Reversion” by Nin Harris (gills, Indian)
“The Stone Weta” by Octavia Cade (environmentalist)
“In the Blind” by Sunny Moraine (sad that world’s destroyed)
“A Man Out of Fashion” by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu

Reviewed by Chuck Rothman

The August issue of Clarkesworld certainly has an international flavor, with stories that cover a wide varieties of cultures.

“Twisted Knots” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires is the story of Lilian, a Chinese-American girl who works creating cell-cultured steaks, but whose passion is for topology. Her mother, a puppeteer, had traveled back to Taiwan after a divorce, and Lilian became interested in mobius strips and puppetry, eventually creating a golem of a puppet coming to life. The story is about how Lilian makes peace with herself and with her issues with her mother. I thought it was nicely told, with a lot to like about Lilian.

Nin Harris‘s “Reversion” is set on Rig-VII, where Aakriti is about to undergo a special ceremony that gives the story its title. We learn that she has spent time off-planet, even to the extent of marrying an alien. The ceremony is set to make her acceptable to return to her family. But Aakriti has reservations. This is a fascinating look at how cultures—especially ones with long traditions—deal with new situations and I found Aakriti’s situation and ambiguous feelings quite compelling. I especially liked the strength of the ending.

“The Stone Weta” is the name of the central character of Octavia Cade‘s story, a woman who has named herself after a creature that manages to survive harsh conditions. She is carrying some important environmental data with her, and, as the story progresses, we meet several other women who also have taken their names from species that go to great lengths to survive, but the Stone Weta is ultimately working hardest to protect the data. The story is very obliquely told and requires careful reading to follow. It’s interesting overall, and deals with some major issues, but the characterization is thin, possibly because so many people are introduced in such a short time.

“In the Blind” by Sunny Moraine tells about Nic and Marlie, who are orbiting the Earth when all signs of life vanish and they have to come to terms with it, both for themselves and the human race. Given the setup, the tone is wildly wrong: Nic shows a repressed melancholy over the fact that everyone they know is dead. Marlie, at least, shows some sign she’s affected by this, but even that seems perfunctory, a background for Nic’s emotional repression. The story is an excuse to make a philosophical point, but it’s far too mundane to match up with the horrific implications that brought it on.

Ken Liu has been translating works by Chinese authors into English, and has added “A Man Out of Fashion” by Chen Qiufan. Du Ruofei wakes to find he’s been hibernating for 300 years and is assigned Azul450-Qin-Ye as his “mate”a guide to help him with his new life. It’s a society enamored of the new, and where a terrorist group—the Three-Legged Crow—is out to destroy it. The situation dates as far back as Looking Backwards, and I find the revelation at the end is also a well-worn cliché in US science fiction. The perspective is interesting, but there’s little new in the heart of the story.

Chuck Rothman’s novels Staroamer’s Fate and Syron’s Fate are available from Fantastic Books.