“Dave’s Head” by Suzanne Palmer
Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett
The 156th issue of Clarkesworld contains five stories, including three novelettes.
“Dave’s Head” by Suzanne Palmer
This SF novelette is set in a future where the world is trying its best to die with a whimper. Cassie supports both her uncle Marty, who wanders in and out of awareness, plus an animatronic dinosaur named Dave, that keeps removing its head.
One day, Dave’s giant head entices Cassie to go on a road trip, in the hope of finding some fellow dinosaurs. As Cassie drives through neighborhoods that have hunkered down, afraid of outsiders, she is unaware that her enemy fooled Dave into leading her into a trap.
This was a thought-provoking study of an insipid future that seemed all too likely. An interesting read.
“Amorville” by Bella Han (translated by the author)
In the future, the Chinese people live a digital life in this SF novelette. Eva lives a hectic life of moment to moment in her crowded city, but in the tiny haven of her apartment she has an expensive dream machine, where she can escape reality by immersing herself into the movies.
When she finds an intriguing actor that keeps reappearing, she feels she is falling in love with another immersive user in disguise. She begins to shut out the real world around her, moving through her non-immersive time in a fog, like the polluted atmosphere. Can she find a way to resolve her unfulfilled love in the dream machine?
This story was confusing at times and slow throughout.
“To Catch All Sorts of Flying Things” by M. L. Clark
Greysl is part of a three-way relationship in this lengthy SF novelette. They are the second generation on a planet that was originally the home of the Makers and managed now by arachnid-like cyborgs. Four other sentient species also live on the planet, each colony in its small cyborg-managed terrain.
When something destroys the only egg of the last living member of one species, Greysl’s sees it as the ultimate genocide. She seeks justice for the lost race as well as security for her own partners and other humans. She sets off for the other colonies to find out who did it, a mission that is going to open her, and her two partners’ eyes to some strange truths they have somehow missed over the last few decades.
This story created an imaginative world, worthy of much further exploration. The author kept the who-done-it mystery alive until the ending twists.
“Lapis” by Sara Saab
Saab’s SF short is set in a future where immortality is no longer available only to royalty; now it’s becoming available to the rich as well. Only the nano procedure isn’t safe, and some patients become pestilence, unable to control their bodies.
Szanna decides she’d rather remain mortal, while her friend Nouri takes the risk, and becomes a pestilence. It takes time for Szanna to find her friend, who’s treated like the ancient lepers, and she takes even longer to devise a plan that could save him.
This story erred more on the side of being confusing rather than mysterious. It was hard to empathize with Szanna or Nouri until the second half of the story, which made for a slow read.
“Malinche” by Gabriela Santiago
An ex-noblewoman named Marina is a master in the art of tollani in this short fantasy. But the priests see her only as a peasant-woman, even though she can speak the language of the aliens that sweep through her people’s lands in search of gold.
The job of translator gives her power that none realize, and in time she seeks to turn the tide on the aliens who bring smallpox to her people as the aliens steal the gold for their own rulers from across the sea. The tollani is the secret that in the end could bring down even the great Cortez, the god of the aliens.
The story explored an alternative history from the past, one filled with the power of the electron and mechanical men.