Clarkesworld #48, September 2010

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Clarkesworld Magazine #48
September 2010

“The Cull” by Robert Reed
“Paper Cradle” by Stephen Gaskell

Reviewed by Rhonda Porrett

In “The Cull” by Robert Reed, happiness and conformity are essential to life inside the station. The history of space colonization has shown that without joy, humans are prone to terror, insanity, and destruction when confronted with their meager existence. It is the doctor’s job to erase negativity among the inhabitants of the station. He does this by altering their brain chemistry.

Orlando’s brain has never responded to mental manipulation, leading many to speculate he’s a troubled genius, an outsider, a menace. At the tender age of fourteen, Orlando has been labeled a bad influence on the necessary elation of the population. They implore the doctor to banish Orlando for the good of the whole. The doctor makes one last attempt to save Orlando by telling him the secret behind what makes him different, but wonders if it too late to save him from exile?

Robert Reed flawlessly integrates action and exposition in “The Cull.” He leaves out just enough detail to create curiosity about the characters and situation before revealing the truth. The pacing of this suspenseful story is engaging. However, the more I pondered “The Cull,” the more familiar it seemed.  

In the movie The Matrix, sentient machines pacify humans by uploading signals into their brains to create a false sense of comfort in a dreary existence. Both The Matrix and “The Cull” examine the philosophical issue of which is preferable: the bliss of ignorance or the harshness of reality? Truth or illusion? Red pill or blue? It is a topic worth exploring more than once. Despite the familiarity of the theme, I recommend this based upon the superb and straightforward writing style of Mr. Reed.

“Paper Cradle” by Stephen Gaskell follows the life of Koryo who is fascinated by origami—the ability of a single sheet of paper to be folded into numerous three-dimensional animals. As he grows, Koryo’s fascination leads to an interest in the folding of solar panels, geosynchronous orbits, and space stations. He becomes an engineer for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and works on a weapon so powerful, the very sky will burn in the inferno.

Estranged from his father, Koryo returns home to comfort him in his final days and learns that his mother died from the effects of a bomb similar to the one he is building. Koryo questions his involvement in creating such an elegant weapon and realizes he is more soldier than scientist.  His thoughts return to his youth, his parents, and the simple art of origami that gave him joy.

I felt the story was one-sided, and needed an intelligent character who embodied the opposite point of view concerning weapons of war to create more tension and depth. Also, the inner struggle of Koryo is downplayed in order to support the theme.