Clarkesworld #144, September 2018

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Clarkesworld #144, September 2018

“A Study in Oils” by Kelly Robson

“Waves of Influence” by D. A. Xiaolin Spires
“Dandelion” by Elly Bangs
“The Foodie Federation’s Dinosaur Farm” by Luo Longxiang (translated by Andy Dudak)

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

One novelette and three short stories, all science fiction, fill the electronic pages of the latest issue of this award-winning magazine.

The protagonist of “A Study in Oils” by Kelly Robson is a competitor in a violent kind of ice hockey played on the Moon. He kills a man during a game. As a form of punishment, a device in his body gives others the power to render him unconscious whenever they wish. Forced to flee those who would kill him while he is helpless, he arrives on Earth. While waiting for Terran authorities to grant him immunity and deactivate the device, he travels to a region of central China. The people inhabiting the area make use of advanced technology, while preserving traditional ways. A seemingly supernatural event during a local ceremony changes his life.

The setting is complex and believable. The way in which the main character, who has never been on Earth before, reacts to his new surroundings is convincing. The author powerfully conveys his fear and guilt, as well as his hope. She was one of many writers who participated in the Danzhai SF Camp, held in the part of China where the story takes place. Her experience adds greatly to the story’s vividness and verisimilitude.

The narrator of “Waves of Influence” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires cheats in order to win the chance to serve as an apprentice to a media star. Her sister, who adores the star, is dying from a terminal disease. The apprentice learns the tricks of the trade, which involve creating an alluring, artificial image while seeming authentic. Her goal is to use her connection to the star to make the sister’s short life as enjoyable as possible.

The author creates an intriguing future world of advanced social media and digital manipulation of appearances. Although the narrator’s motives are not always entirely clear, the way in which she succumbs to the temptations of stardom is compelling.

“Dandelion” by Elly Bangs deals with three generations of women, from the middle of the twentieth century to the near future. A scientist discovers an ancient alien spacecraft in Antarctica. Her daughter grows up to work with her. A difference of opinion about whether humanity will soon reach the final limit of its technology, or whether it will be able to travel to the stars, leads to conflict between the two. The granddaughter of the scientist eventually finds a way to resolve the two viewpoints with a grand gesture.

The premise is an interesting one, with strong emotional appeal. The author quickly reveals the true nature of the alien vessel, which weakens the plot. This is a minor flaw in an otherwise intriguing character study.

“The Foodie Federation’s Dinosaur Farm” by Luo Longxiang (translated by Andy Dudak) takes place on a starship designed to raise dinosaurs for meat. These are not ordinary dinosaurs, but a highly intelligent species recreated from fossils discovered not long before the story begins. So bright are they, in fact, that they can talk to people and even imitate parts of human culture. A worker in the starship barely survives a revolt by the dinosaurs. The leader of one tribe of dinosaurs allows him to live because he can help build weapons to use against an enemy tribe. He knows this is only a temporary reprieve, and he must use all the resources at his disposal to find a way to escape.

This is an original plot, but one that is very difficult to accept. The idea that people would be eager to kill and eat beings as sentient as humans is a disturbing one. Although partly intended as black comedy and satire, the story is serious enough to suffer from this lack of believability.

Victoria Silverwolf doesn’t eat meat.