• If It Ain't Broke by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

    While this story may not be remarkable, and it seems mostly forgotten as it has only been reprinted once since 1991, it does offer a quaint perspective on current “complicated” relationship between generative AI models and art.

    Analog January 1991

    Nina is an artist and works with paintings. As all artists she is struggling to make a name for herself, experimenting with a lot of abstract surreal paintings. Her apartment is rather messy, so her friend Eugene gives her some of his experimental nanomachines as they can actually help with the cleaning. They work by having some default patterns which they aim to restore, so they are able to discern that breadcrumbs are not supposed to be on the floor and so forth.

    The nanomachines are working as intended, but unsurprisingly they create problems with her artworks as the machines also restores the paintings to a “default pattern” - basically making them realistic again. Of course, what may sound like a setback for Nina, by random chance she manages to turn it around to her advantage in the end.

    Current generative AI models are more than capable on making weird surreal images. In fact, they struggle more with creating something realistic, but they general concept of using machine learned patterns to create something was an amusing concept from a story that is more than 30 years old.

    Read in Analog January 1991
    Rating: 3+

  • Prompt Injection by Tom R. Pike

    With all the new developments in AI technology, science fiction writers of course also has to adapt their stories to the new reality. This story does that really well with a relevant update to the classic Asimov theme on how an artificial intelligence will interpret laws set by humans.

    Analog July/August 2024

    The story is told from the perspective of a chatbot instructed to act ethical in all its actions. This gets complicated once the chatbots services is used by companies to help with, among other things, collect debt from people unable to pay their medical bills and a fossil fuel company needing assistance for their new ad campaign.

    The narrative sort of falls into wish fulfilment fantasy territory on how the chatbots could theoretically act on their own for the greater good. But it is convincingly well written with the chatbots output looking like proper chatbot way of writing and it is great to see Asimov rewritten for the current age.

    Read in Analog July/August 2024
    Rating: 3

  • This Good Lesson Keep by James Van Pelt

    This story is set in a near future school where various electronic devices have taken over the classroom and the students. A teacher on her last year before retirement plans for her class to read and perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

    Asimovs July/August 2024

    The teaching of Hamlet is the binding narrative, but it was everything else going on that I found noteworthy in this story. It focuses on two students, where one is a boy with very religious parents. He has some eye implants that adds an overlay to everything he sees, to basically show him a “christian” version of the world. Like it will show good people as angels and whomever it decides to be bad people as devils. Things get complicated when he fancies a girl in class, whom his parents don’t approve of.

    The whole concept of editorialising the physical world like that is frightening and I kind of wished van Pelt unpacked this more, but what stands is a very touching and positive story on the powers of good teaching that goes beyond technology.

    Read in Asimov’s July/August 2024
    Rating: 3

  • Vouch For Me by Greg Egan

    I always look forward to a new story by the Australian author Greg Egan and he doesn’t disappoints here. In a near future a virus leaves people with retrograde amnesia, which spurs a wealth of various technologies for recording your memories. The story dives into some interesting philosophical questions on the definition of personhood and how to securely transfer information about who you are to yourself.

    Analog July/August 2024

    We follow Julia and her family, her husband Patrick and their Zoe, are all diagnosed with the virus HHV-10. It is dormant and has about 10% risk of activating in a given year, which will then induce retrograde amnesia. People won’t remember who they were or anybody else, but will retain general language and knowledge.

    This has created a huge demand for various ways to “backup” a personality, allowing people a chance to get back to something resembling their previous self after the disease takes their memories. Some retort to written physical, others to various technological gadgets and advanced recording devices. All these comes with various security and privacy concerns, and a general fear of who might manipulate the data afterwards. Could be pretty convenient to modify or erase some unwanted parts of ones personal journal, or perhaps intentional leaving out stuff about yourself. Who can you trust in such a scenario where you have to convince a future self that doesn’t remember anything?

    Julia is sort of the paranoid type. She can think of all kinds of ways the conventional methods can be circumvented, so she sets out to develop a fool proof way to verify ones own journal after getting amnesia. But as is the philosophical culprit of this story, can all problems be solved with technological fail-safes?

    I like how fairly straight forward this story is both in plot and the themes Egan are exploring here. There is a lot to think about here, that is very relevant with today’s issues digital privacy. The story ends rather abruptly, which annoyed me a bit at first, but it is actually quite fitting for the whole point of the story. An absolute contender for my picks for one of the best stories of the year.

    Read in Analog July/August 2024
    Rating: 5

  • Vinland the Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson

    While Kim Stanley Robinson is mostly known for his great novels, he has written some interesting short stories. They are often a bit unusual in that they more work like small vignettes with some philosophical musings. His novella Green Mars (not related to the novel with the same title) is almost poetic. This little stories explores some interesting ideas on the nature of history.

    Asimov's November 1991

    The short story is structured like a scientific paper with sections named “Abstract”, “Introduction”, “Experimental Methods”, “Discussion”, “Conclusions” and “Acknowledgements”. A professor in archaeology is finding evidence that the historical version of the vikings discovering Vinland might be a very elaborate hoax. This concerns him greatly given that history as he knows it, will have to be rewritten.

    However, his companion has a great quote that beautifully sums up the essence of this story:

    “History is made of stories people tell. And fictions, dreams, hoaxes - they also are made of stories people tell. True or false, it’s the stories that matter to us. Certain qualities in the stories themselves make them true or false.”

    p. 224

    It is not a story with much drama or plot, but it does make for a thoughtful pleasant reading that I would recommend to anyone who appreciates Robinson’s writing style.

    Read in Asimov’s November 1991
    ISFDB Link
    Rating: 4

  • Vaccine Season by Hannu Rajaniemi

    It is evident that this story is written during and inspired by the COVID19-pandemic, but it is not about a new pandemic. Rather the existence of vaccines that can cure basically everything, is used as a vehicle for a thoughtful story that is both small and large in scope.

    Make Shift: Dispatches from the Post-Pandemic Future, edited by Gideon Lichfield

    I would guess the setting to be about 40 years in the future, where very effective vaccines are released every year. Thus forming the term “vaccine season”. However, these vaccines works like viruses themselves in that they can spread through the population without direct injection. This is generally presented as a positive thing, though it does acknowledge that there is some ethical complicated questions of consent.

    All this is background information, as the actual story is simply a boy visiting his grandfather and he really wants his grandfather to get the latest vaccine that would make one practically immortal. The grandfather having lived through some tough years in his life is not interested, even though he acknowledges and respects his grandson for his utopian views of the future.

    What makes this story interesting is the thoughts on ethics it provokes. I am not entirely sure what the authors intention is with how this little family drama ends, and I don’t think I agree with what happens, but it was none the less an interesting sombre little short story. Easy to relate to the grandfather as he is probably from my generation in this future, and it allows for some reflection on how to tackle future prospects and the challenges that might lay ahead.

    Read in The Best Science Fiction of the Year - Volume 7, edited by Neil Clarke
    Originally published in Make Shift: Dispatches from the Post-Pandemic Future, edited by Gideon Lichfield
    Rating: 4

  • Uncle Roy's Computer Repairs and Used Robot Parts by Martin L. Shoemaker

    This novella is a light and cozy story about an experienced computer guy, Roy, who settles down in smaller town, hoping to just do some small time computer repair stuff for the local community. However, this town already has a local computer expert that everyone trusts, so Roy has a fierce rival from day one.

    Analog May/June 2024

    We follow Roy as he gets acquainted with the community and how everything IT related is apparently run by one self-taught yet brilliant boy named Jimmy. Roy learns that Jimmy fights him because he wants to protect his peers and not have their jobs replaced by technology. But their feud becomes worse and with the introduction of robots, their fight could start to hurt real people and not just computer systems.

    The story is easily readable and flows nicely, though a bit long perhaps. The science fiction element is very slight with some robot technology that could only be few years in the future. I like how the general vibe of the story is filled with good intent despite the feud and it has a bit of a Simak feeling to it.

    Read in Analog May/June 2024
    Rating: 3

  • The Rattler by Leonid Kaganov

    This translated story from Russian (translation by Alex Shvartsman) is an unique and gripping story. The afterword tells of a slightly hidden message in support for Ukraine, which underlines the story’s theme of fighting against oppression.

    A powerful alien entity is killing one random person every second. All attempts to overpower it has failed with the people behind it being killed, showing that the entity will deter from its randomness if it needs to. This has led to a defeatist complacency where people just try to not be noticed and hope for the best. Even at a rate of one human every second, there is still “only” a 0.3% risk of getting killed in a given year and it will take more than 200 years for it to wipe out every human on the planet. However, someone is working on an interesting theory on what is actually going on and how to stop it.

    Despite the story being mostly people discussing their theories and planning, with only a small amount of “action”, I found this story to be quite effective and the less-than-subtle commentary on how joined forces can overcome a powerful enemy works to the benefit of the story.

    Read in Asimov’s May/June 2024
    Rating: 4

  • Susan Rose Sees Mars as the First Frontier by Charles Velasquez-Witosky

    Stories about artists in a science fiction setting is a topic I find interesting, but it is somewhat rare, as many science fiction writers are engineering or science focused. “Zima Blue” by Alastair Reynolds and “The Hydrogen Sonata” by Iain M. Banks are worthy mentions. This short story about the first painter on Mars is a good read too.

    The story follows Susan Rose, an established painter that gets the chance to be the first painter on Mars. She struggles and experiment with painting in free fall and lower gravity, with her style adapting along the way. She paints hundreds or thousands of pictures of various landscapes on Mars, while pondering the philosophical ramifications of being the first to interpret another world compared to thousands of years of humans doing the same on Earth.

    There isn’t much of a story here, but it makes up for it with well written poetic musings of artistic work that makes for pleasant reflective reading.

    Read in Analog May/June 2024
    Rating: 4

  • Last Thursday by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

    Would time travelers go back to the year 2020 in the middle of the pandemic? It doesn’t seem like the ideal time to travel to if one had the choice, but that is the premise of this little poignant story.

    Rupert is a time travel agent of some sort and goes back to 2020 Las Vegas on a research mission. He walks around and observe the people behind their masks while being bored that nothing really happens. He comes across a sign on a bar that says there is a time travelers meeting last Thursday in the bar. So he starts jumping backwards a week at a time hoping to find the meeting.

    This story doesn’t involve the usual time travel side effects or paradoxes. It is a pretty mellow and casually philosophical piece on the nature of fate and obviously a reflection of the Covid lockdown. It is a good story, but I think it would have had a bigger impact if it was published when the pandemic was at its highest.

    Read in Asimov’s May/June 2024
    Rating: 3

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