This story from 1963 lives up to its title and is an interesting read in the context of also showing a turning point in how science fiction writers wrote about humans and aliens.
A human space exploration team discovers an Earth-like planet with human-like intelligent species. Their level of technology is around the stone age, but they quickly establish communication and the natives to the planet turns out to be very quick learners. Like extremely quick. Over the span of just a couple of days they go from being presented with the invention of the wheel to using it for quite advanced bandwagons. The humans, while impressed, gets somewhat scared. They see these people as a potential rival that might overtake humans in very few years and dominate the galaxy. Drastic measures, such as total genocide, are discussed but dropped again.
What I personally found interesting about this 60 year old story, is that it is built around a human mindset towards aliens that we don’t see much anymore in fiction. I grew up with stuff like Star Trek that generally has a positive and optimistic view of alien species – where the default assumption is that advanced species will be peaceful. Of course this story is not the first to challenge the view of the old pulps where humans are entitled to dominate the galaxy, this anthology also has The Aliens by Murray Leinster from 1959, but it is a good example of the shift in how aliens, and more to the point – how humans viewed other species, was portrayed in science fiction at the time.
I found the ending to be bit rushed but liked the overall more positive tone, so definitely worth a read.
Read in The World Turned Upside Down Original published in Worlds of If, May 1963 ISFDB Link Read the story at drabblecast.org Rating: 4
The premise of this story is an advanced technology that allows scientists on Earth to see distant planets through a microscopic black hole. The details are somewhat handwavy, but we follow Kary who have been studying a fishlike alien species on a faraway exoplanet through this device. The use of the device is under tight regulation to ensure that the observed aliens are not influenced in any way. In a session Kary ignores an alert about a fault in the device and a small glimpse of light gets through to the planet. That turns out to be a big deal, because the working theory of her research group was that the fish aliens are blind since they live in complete darkness under water – but one of the observed aliens clearly reacted and saw the flash of light.
I think it is a story that starts better than it ends. The story convincingly depicts Karys moral and scientific struggle between having her whole theory blown away and that she also broke the rules. I found the ending to go a bit overboard, but I always appreciate when scientists and how they work are portrayed in a reasonable realistic manner.
Clarkesworld have published a lot of translated Chinese stories in recent years. Many of them have dealt with death in different ways and this does too. Translated by Jay Zhang.
About 50 years in the future a technology exists that allows people to have their whole life recorded by a small flying drone resembling a hummingbird. The story is told by a mother who has lost her daughter to cancer at a young age. She ponders whether she should use the recordings of her daughters life to make a simulated recreation of her.
This a story that isn’t focused on plot and the structure is not straightforward with various diary like entries from the past, the mother that her addresses her deceased daughter in second person about her life, and the process of creating the simulation. None of the science fiction ideas presented here are exactly new, but they don’t need to be, because it is presented in such a way that I found emotionally engaging in a way I rarely get with these kind of “recreating the dead” type of stories. Even though the subject is tragic, it is not a sad story per se and it doesn’t become sentimental. There is a lot of celebration of the life lived by this woman and how her mother have conflicted thoughts about recording technology. In addition, even though it is a very character focused story – we also get a sense of an interesting complex future through various worldbuilding hints.
It is great to see how Clarkesworld continues to bring translated works of science fiction to a wider readership and this is one of the highly recommended ones.
This short story follows an older farmer named Buck living in North Carolina. He recently lost his wife and is generally not happy with life at the moment. Then a storm hits his farm and the rainfall reveals something underneath a small hill on his farm. His farm is on otherwise flat land, but since the small circular shaped hill have always been there, he hadn’t given it much thought. Underneath the now washed away dirt he finds what appears to be a crashed flying saucer. The saucer appears to be still “alive”, but weakened. With help from his UFO-enthusiastic cousin they manage to reactivate the saucer, following its “instructions” – since it appears to be able to communicate with them in some telepathic function to their subconscious.
I got a very Clifford D. Simak like feeling reading this story. The characters are likeable farmers portrayed with a lot of respect, like Simak was also famous for doing. The story manages to balance and combine something lighthearted and a bit funny, while also dealing with serious issues such as loss and loneliness in an appropriate manner.
Read in Asimov’s November/December 2022 Rating: 3+
I tend to prefer stories with a clear setup where the world is established and there is a mostly straightforward plot. This story is one of the exceptions because the plot is minimal and we don’t get much background information about anything. Yet it has stayed in my mind for a while and clearly made an impression.
A man is living inside computer simulations and no longer has a physical body. But he has grown bored by them. He tries a new rather expensive one that on the surface is very mundane. It is basically just a short train ride. But the level of detail is so much richer than the other simulations. Everything is individually modeled and not just a generic texture. Birds are fully simulated animals and not simply basic repeated patterns. It feels more real.
It is not a story with plot-twists or big revelations, but it has a lot of atmosphere with a sense of melancholy. There are countless stories of computer uploaded minds but this captures how such simulations will likely still miss something to feel completely real. We don’t get any background information on any of the characters, but we get a very clear sense of their motivations and internal struggles with living inside computer simulations. They all seem to be missing their real physical life and will happily settle for a simulated world that has more depth than breadth in its level of details. Whatever goes on in the real world is story is not mentioned but not important. The story works very well within it its own little microcosm.
This story from 1962 takes places more than 70 years after a big war. A war fought with big intelligent war machines. Now the war is almost forgotten, but some of the machines are still buried deep underground and one is awakened by nearby construction work. The intelligent machine is still operating as if the war is going and it is heading straight for the city. Now an old and retired soldier is the only one who may be able to persuade the machine to stop its mission.
What I found most interesting about this otherwise pretty straightforward story, is how differently my reading was compared to the editors of The World Turned Upside Down. Their comments on the story focuses on its portrayal of being a war veteran and showing the sense of duty soldiers have. They even see the machines as somewhat sympathetic. My take on the story was more in the direction of being a warning against autonomous war machines. How dangerous it is to have intelligent weapons acting on their own lying around, especially after the war has ended. A concern that becomes even more relevant with the military technology of the present, where we are already seeing autonomous drones being used to some extent. That doesn’t negate what the editors say about the story though and I still found it worth reading.
Read in The World Turned Upside Down Originally published in Analog January 1967 ISFDB Link Rating: 3
Khanna gives a first contact story where the actual contact part is not that easy. A large object appears over Los Angeles and it just hovers there doing nothing. All kinds of methods at communication is attempted. Visual, sound, smell, every kind of radio transmission and nothing happens.
The story follows Monique as she gets involved with the project for her ability to find hidden connections in seemingly noisy data. When they try physical contact with the object, the people come back sick – but with very different kinds of symptoms. Monique thinks this is the key to finding the right way to communicate with the aliens.
It is a risky choice to build a first contact story around aliens that are not communicating anything at all. There is a payoff in the end explaining what is going on and I found it to be quite a good explanation for why aliens might not try communicating with anything obvious like sound, radio or visual. The problem is that the whole story is one long buildup to that point and then the story stops. The payoff is good, but not enough to justify the whole story that I felt could have been used for more.
Read in Asimov’s November/December 2022 Rating: 2+
The bio of Aurelien Gayet says he has a passion for cyberpunk and this certainly has all the elements of a classic cyberpunk story. Cyborg-like tech, futuristic drugs, dark nightclubs, detectives and evil megacoperations.
The story starts with a crime scene in a thrashed hotel room. A man is dead, likely from an overdose, and a destroyed proxychip is found. In this future, a technology exists that makes it possible to transfer a copy of ones mind and consciousnesses to a proxychip. The chip can form a holographic version of the original human and act and think like the him. The experiences can be synchronized back to the human mind, thus allowing people to live basically two lives at the same time. Like attending school while going to work. These chips are under strict regulation and technical lockdown.
At the crime scene we meet both a regular detective and an insurance investigator for the company making the chips. Because every destroyed chip becomes an insurance issue, the owner needs to be informed in the right way (people can get somewhat emotionally attached to their proxies), compensated properly for their loss and so forth. But of course this turns out to be no ordinary case for any of them. Suffice to say, the plot goes where these crime solving cases tend to go with two different people needing to work together. Drugs, nightclubs, conspiracies, hackers, cool tech and all that.
I generally found the story to be pretty entertaining and I think this is the authors first professional sale, and with than i mind – a quite decent debut. As I have said, it has all the elements of a classical cyberpunk thriller – but also maybe too much of all the known ingredients. It is great such stories can still be published, but here it becomes a bit too formulaic and predictable. I am missing something outside the tropes to make it more interesting. The ending is serviceable, but also kind of felt like I have just watched a pilot of a new tv series that might or might not get an entire season.
Worth reading and I am glad Analog is still publishing these types of stories. I would like to see more from this author in the future, and hopefully he can find his own voice in the cyberpunk genre.