Late last year I backed the Clarkesworld Chinese Science Fiction Translation Project and my reward was to get a bunch of issues. The first of those, the bumper-sized Issue 100, arrived on 1st January and it was filled with some tasty SFF goodness!
Clarkesworld is pretty well established as a damn good place to get good short fiction and this issue didn’t disappoint. You can read (and listen) to all the stories and non-fiction pieces in this issue for free over on the Clarkesworld website or get an ebook subscription for a small fee.
Overall this issue gets a 4.5 stars from me. Some truly excellent stories from a few of my favourites but a couple of odd ones too. Individual stories (but not the non-fiction) are rated below.
Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight by Aliette de Bodard
One of de Bodard’s Mindships stories – a loose collection of works that all take place within the same universe but each stand alone. This is a beautiful tale of death, grief and mourning but also of life continuing along and thriving. It captures that essence of grieving – that moment when something so dear to us is ripped away that we feel that the entire world should have stopped in recognition. Bu it doesn’t. It never does. Because no one person, no matter how important or vital they may be to us or to a community, is vital. Life goes on. de Bodard has a light touch is this tale and I’m left tantalised and wanting to spend more time in this unique world. 4.5 stars
A Universal Elegy by Tang Fei
I don’t really know what to say about this one. It’s so very damn weird and that it left me kind of creeped out and I couldn’t say that I enjoyed it but it was clever and it was intriguingly written. Letters sent to a dear brother tell the story of a hopeless romantic who constantly falls for abusive men suddenly whisked away by a handsome alien to a world where creeping plants might be in charge and memory is held in the body. Strange, strange, strange. 2.5 stars
Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer
What if the reason there’s so many cat pictures online is because Google likes them? And I mean Google as in the search-engine become sentient, obviously. That’s the premise of this wonderfully funny little story told from the computer’s perspective. Given that it knows pretty much all about our lives but can only help us through search results and adverts, how will it choose to help those who give it the best cat pictures? Cuteness embodied. 4 stars
The Apartment Dweller’s Bestiary by Kij Johnson
An A-Z of fantastical creatures that dwell in the modern-day apartment rather than the dungeons and forests of yore. Through the descriptions of the creatures’ habits and the story-tellers experiences with them we learn about life, love, and loneliness in the big city. An intriguing concept that was touching in places but felt a little too long by the time we got to the end of the alphabet. 3 stars
Ether by Zhang Ran
In a world where everything is just, well, kind of boring and normal, one man begins to question if maybe things didn’t used to be this way. Didn’t people used to argue about things on the internet? And weren’t protests held about things other than polite suggestions for lawn maintenance? So he starts to look, and question, and wonder. And then the shit doth hitteth the fan…eth. This was good thriller/sf combination that managed to combine fast action, a fun ‘scientific’ premise, and some interesting thoughts about protest and freedom of communication. 3.5 stars
The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild by Catherynne M. Valente
A stunning, wonderous rainbow of a story that is nigh on impossible to describe because it’s all about the language and the descriptions and the pacing. Masterfully written, it tells us about the life of Violet who lives in the land of purple (everything’s purple, just go with it) that also happens to be the wild west (it makes total sense when she tells it, I promise). There are also family tensions, pictures that give advice, a unicorn of grief, and the intriguing lands of blue and red beckoning on the horizon. 5 Perfect, magical, shiny rainbow stars.
An Exile of the Heart by Jay Lake
Like Romeo and Juliet except on a space station. And with lesbians. And they don’t kill themselves like nitwits. Actually not really like Romeo and Juliet at all then. Except, you know, an epic love story across two houses. Whatever. It’s pretty damn cool. 4 stars
The Wind Blowing, and This Tide by Damien Broderick
An alien spacecraft has been discovered on one of Saturn’s moons, preserved behind a forcefield, covered in a blanket of flowers. It’s quite the image to start with and sets a thoughtful solemn tone for what could otherwise be at time slightly funny. Set in a science fictional future with space bases across the solar system, this future also has psychics and a theory that dinosaurs were intelligent space-faring beings. It sounds funny but somehow it’s carried perfectly seriously and you’re entirely focused on the far more human tale of the narrator’s history and emotions. A reminder that no matter the grandeur and weirdness of SFF we only ever see it on our own human scale. 4 stars
Laika’s Ghost by Karl Schroeder
This felt like a cross between classic science fiction and one of those old cold war spy novels. A UN weapons inspector must help to escort a American political refugee to a hiding place in Europe and investigate reports of worrying activities on former Soviet nuclear test sites. The two obviosuly turn out to be connected and then there’s bad men from Google and the government and a die-hard USSR splinter group and chases and mysteries and FUN. A really well paced and enjoyable story with characters who managed to feel very real despite the short word count and plot that felt straight out of the golden age. 4 stars
I’m not reviewing the non-fiction but I wasn’t overly enamoured with any of it in this issue though #PurpleSF by Cat Rambo was a nice inspiring piece.
Don’t forget you can read all the stories for free on the Clarkesworld website or subscribe to the ebook versions for a small fee.