Clarkesworld has gotten a lot of media attention lately with its problems with AI-generated story submissions. We see plenty of negative effects of these new tools, but this short story manages to propose something a bit more constructive use of these tools – with respect to the more questionable moral dilemmas they also add.
In this near future a journalists hears about a new app that apparently is great at helping people to be more productive and happier. At first she thinks it sounds like a cult thing with how every user talks about it a bit too passionately. She tries it though and the key element is that the app is built around a community where other users are instructed to make real phone calls to other users. Like telling them it is time to wake up and remind them of their personal goals. This turns out to be quite effective. As we all know, the motivation to actually do something is low if it is just an app telling you, but if you have a friend waiting for you at the gym – then you have to go.
The story centers around this journalist and how she tries to unravel who or what is behind this special app. What starts as a great community where people help each other is quickly ruined by an influx of scammers and commercial interests.
I found this story to be fairly realistic in what tech could evovle into in the near future, while also acknowledging how easily otherwise noble intents can be quickly ruined by a few bad people. Not unlike how AI tools are used today.
This 10 year old story was quite fun to read today, because we aren’t far from the “app”-controlled future depicted here. When smartphones were new, the phrase “there is an app for that” quickly became popular. This story presents a near future where there is an app in practically everything, which isn’t far off from all the IoT devices we have today.
A man has his life controlled by various smart apps as he tries to loose weight hoping it will impress his new girlfriend. His fridge controls what he eats and his shoes how long he runs.
There isn’t exactly any hidden message here as the story is fairly straightforward about how we should make our own decisions in life. Should we satisfy the apps or the people we care about? A pretty good story that barely feels like science fiction here in 2023.
A couple of years ago I tried reading some of John Varley novels, but didn’t find them interesting. Reading his short stories is a completely different things. There are so many interesting stories from him the 70s and 80s, and this is just one among many in the big collection The John Varley Reader.
The basic setup for this story is really something else. A young girl stranded alone on an abandoned space station with only some dogs and plenty of alcohol for companionship. After years of living like this a Lunar police officer manages to get in contact with her, after it is discovered that someone is actually alive aboard this station that is about to crash. The mystery of who she is and why she is alive on the space station reveals a fascinating back story about a terrible virus that ravaged decades ago.
It is a very tragic and sad story, but not overly so because Varley often writes with a little added humor and lightheartedness. It wasn’t a particularly sad reading experience even though the actual story is.
Read in The John Varley Reader Originally published in Blue Champagne Rating: 4
Sean McMullen is an Australian author I have just recently discovered and have been very impresses with basically every short story I have read of him so far. His collection “Dreams of the Technarion” is worth checking out.
The story follows Lars who has worked as an engineer on a large telescope project located on the Moon. He goes on a sort of date with a woman who turns out to be a contract killer on a mission to kill him. Somehow Lars is neither surprised nor very upset about this. The assassin can’t help being curious about why this seemingly harmless engineer has a price on his head, so Lars gets to tell his story.
McMullen manages to create an engaging story even though it is on the surface just two people talking. The main character even acknowledges this directly:
I have found that questions are the best way to explain a difficult idea. Do an info-dump, and people’s eyes glaze over. Force them to follow a trail of reasoning, and you have a convert.
Both characters are interesting and the actual mystery about what Lars know and why someone wants him dead was well done and original.