Rusch is known to write about a future with advanced spacefare and aliens, but where some of the injustices in todays world still lives on. I recently wrote about “The Impossibles” with that theme. In this story the narrator isn’t exactly a likeable person that wants to fight injustice – though she might end up doing just that.
The narrator is a woman who works as a private detective, sort of, on some planetary settlement. She ended up there after she left her life and family on Earth behind when she signed up for a voyage across the galaxy. She signed all the waivers on the consequences of time dilation, but it took her a while to actually understand it – and then there was no going back. Now she offers investigative services to other people in a similar situation, by going through various data sources for information on their families back on Earth where at least a 100 years have passed. She gets a big case where she is tasked with investigating hundreds of travelers, which unveils a much greater crime that she is used to dealing with.
Rusch has made an interesting choice by having a narrator that is rather unlikable. She has a lot of self-hate but no real regrets on leaving behind her son and husband. The effect of this is that we don’t really have sympathy for her in the beginning, because she just have to live with the consequences of her actions, but through her investigations we hear of people who have ended up in the same situation as her having lost their families to the effects of time dilation – except they claim to not have done so knowingly.
The emotional impact isn’t quite on the same level as that famous scene in the movie Interstellar, but the story pushes the same buttons in that regard.
A reality tv show where it is literally about life and death is not a new idea in science fiction, and this story might not be very original, it still handles the subject in a very believable and engaging way.
The concept introduced here is pretty simple. 1000 people sign up for the event, everybody has to swallow a pill and a random person dies. Proceed to the next round to win more money or quit and keep your winnings. Rinse and repeat. The story is told by one half of a couple who entered together, so we know at least one of them survived, but how it all develops throughout the several months long tv program kept me hooked from start to finish.
It is sort of predictable how things escalates, how they have doubts as the odds gets worse and how they get hooked on the thrill so they can’t stop even though their winnings are already way beyond their initial goal. Even though the story didn’t throw any huge surprises at me – the ending being a slight exception but not huge – the execution from Gerrold is just very well done. I was hooked like it was an actual game show I was watching and everything surrounding it felt very realistic and plausible. I wouldn’t completely rule out such a reality show in some future at least.
This short story is set in a cyberpunkish future with an internet controlled by spambots and even the smallest misstep on social media, will get a person “cancelled” into oblivion.
We follow Joel who works odd jobs with various technical repairs. Over the years he has managed to get quite a few augmented upgrades on himself to be able to do advanced tasks, but his clients are mostly on the edges of society. He is tasked to do a repair on a humanlike robot by a very nervous and skeptical woman. She will not give him any information about herself or the reason for the repair job. Joel has his own sources though and manages to get enough data on her to know her name and that she posted something possibly racist on Twitter, which has ruined her life because automated bots make sure that every misstep online is never forgotten and everything she tries to do online is hampered by AI bots. Joel has his own similar baggage and even though she doesn’t ask for it, he tries to help her more than just repairing her robot.
In a relatively few pages, the author manages to create a bleak and dystopian future with no digital privacy and “cancel culture” is taken to extremes and out of control by automated bots. It is not a story that gives all the answers, give complete background stories or even resolve all plot threads, but it doesn’t need to. There is plenty of depth in this well written short story.
This story felt a bit like the classic nuclear scare stories from the 50s updated to the 21st century.
In some undetermined future destroyed by what I would assume was a nuclear war, a group of humans approaches a missile silo base station still in operation. It is operated by an AI and the story is told from its perspective in second person (which was bit of a weird choice in my opinion, but it didn’t detract from the experience).
The humans are seeking food and shelter and the silo can provide it – on one condition. It needs a human operator to fulfill its ultimate purpose: launch the missile towards the enemy. The humans are not really keen on that, thinking the world have seen enough death. They do agree to postpone the issue a month while the humans are allowed to get settled in the silo base. As the story moves forward, the AI running the silo starts having doubts on its programmed purpose in “life”.
I don’t know if the author was inspired by the classic Theodore Sturgeon story “Thunder and Roses”, but it many ways it reminded me of that story – though not as grim.
This novelette has a bit of an unusual setting. The story takes place entirely in a Buddhist monastery and follows a robot that seeks to achieve enlightenment as a monk.
The robot called Raz is a cataloging robot specially built to absorb and catalogue books. Its previous function turned obsolete, so it sought out the monastery by itself. After some debate between the monks, the robot is accepted in the community as an equal. Not without issues though. Especially one other monk is very adamant that spiritual enlightenment is only for humans and a soul-less unconscious machine should not be allowed.
This simple but effective setup creates a story with lots of philosophical debate about sentience, free will and spiritual topics. A theme that has been explored in countless science fiction stories, and while I haven’t seen one that took place in a religious setting like here, there isn’t much new to add.
While the story is easy to follow and reasonably engaging, I was thinking of the classic Star Trek TNG episode “The Measure Of A Man” which deals with lots of the same questions and uses the same type of conflict to setup the arguments for and against – and ultimately does it better.
One of the great things about going back to older issues of a magazine is when you read a great story that you would otherwise have missed, because it hasn’t been reprinted much. This time travel novella is one such story.
The setup of this story could almost have come out of the same magazine in the 1930s. Jonas is the typical mad scientist. He is working alone because his fellow researchers at the university have turned their back on him and his unorthodox interests. He is claiming to be very close to discovering time travel. He needs an assistant at his lab and along comes Peter, an ex-convict willing to accept the low paying job but with full accommodation at the scientists’ lab.
The version of time travel that Jonas invents is the one where it is possible to send objects back in time. But only if there is a compatible receiver running in that time. Neatly explaining why no time travelers from the future have been seen yet. In all this, Peter is doing his job as a general handyman while being equally intrigued and perplexed by what is going on. He becomes somewhat friends with Jonas and they go through the usual motions of discussing all the well known paradoxes of time travel.
As the story moves forward and Jonas successfully manages to get messages from his future self – with some good stock tips among other things – Peter becomes increasingly worried about the consequences of trying to change the course of history. Butterfly effect and all that.
While the story starts kinda light, the tone gets progressively darker. The stakes are ramped up and the cascading effects of messing with time lines become harder to ignore. While this story doesn’t do much new with how it deals with time travel paradoxes, it handles them well and understandable. The author is aware that the typical Analog reader likely knows the genre well enough, and he uses that to take what might seem at first to be the usual route for time travel stories, but the ending was something different – and quite moving I might add. Very much recommended.
The setup for this is an Earth that has become increasingly unlivable so humanity has planned a big generation ship, but only a limited number of people can go.
The story follows a couple who has managed to get a seat on the generation ship through hard work and excelling in basically every imaginable test. It is clear that only the top 0.001% have a chance. They want only the absolute “best” on this ship. I am making quotes around the “best” part because one of the key points of the story, is whether intelligence is the only and proper way of determining who are worthy of making the foundation for the survival of the human race. The problem arises when their child is deemed not excellent enough to get a seat on the ship. He is just an average child. The father thinks they should send him back to Earth to his grandparents, so they can retain their place on the generation ship. The mother has a different opinion.
I found this to be a story with plenty of potential for some exploration into personal morales and what is for the greater good. I frequently see stories like this in Analog that really aims for tackling complex and interesting humanistic issues. The downside is that often the result is rather superficial. The story jumps straight at the problem at hand and doesn’t waste any time, but it comes with a lack in character development. We are just told how they think and feel, without having a good grasp of who these characters are, their motivations or why they act like they do. Which is a shame, because the actual premise is interesting, but without any sort of character depth it isn’t as engaging as it could be.
A delightfully silly story with the amusing premise that all the planets in the solar system are inhabited with intelligent life, only humans don’t know it.
All the different species in the Solar System have some sort of union where they discuss things and what to do with the increasingly curious humans. It was easy enough to fool the scientists of Earth when they invented telescopes, but with spaceships surveying planets and landrovers on Mars, the need for complex holographic illusions has increased. The story evovles around the martian Twee’ll (a clear reference to Tweeel from Stanley G. Weinbaums “A Martian Odyssey”) and its dealings with the other solar species about how to proceed with the Earth situation.
This is the type of story I always love to see in Analog. There should be room for these less than serious stories – as long as they are as entertaining as this one.
A single tweet on Twitter can have massive impacts in the real world. This amusing little story begins with a poll on Twitter asking which region should be destroyed by a heat ray, with Appalachia “winning” by a large margin.
The story is told by a man who has been engaging with this specific Twitter account for a while. He discovers that it is not just a joke account, but actual aliens who really have a death ray capable of killing everything in that region with 25 million people. But maybe he can talk them into a different deal.
As might have been guessed, this is a somewhat quirky story written in a humorous light style, while still keeping it serious enough not to be completely silly. We only see the aliens through correspondence through Twitter – still, I found them to be rather convincing even though the whole scenario is a bit far-fetched.
This was a very Analog-esque story. Scientists discover something incredible but the consequences are more messy and complicated. Here we delve into a test for human consciousness.
John and his research partner have developed a special MRI scan that can detect where the consciousness lies in the brain. The twist is that their tests show that about 20% of human test subjects are not really conscious. This discovery hits Johns partner hard, because according to the test his wife’s brain shows no activity in the consciousness-center. She is a what is named a Blank in the story. John wants to publish their results anyway and the world changes drastically when their findings become public knowledge.
A test becomes widely available and many people start to test themselves, their kids, future employees and so on. The Blanks quickly become second-rate citizens unable to get a job or stay in a relationship. Many kids ends up as orphanages because their parents don’t want them. John gets rich for his patents on the tests, but he has increasingly moral qualms about the whole thing.
This story has a lot to unpack. There are plenty of philosophical and existential questions to ponder with the concept of human consciousness. I like the general premise of this story, but the consequences to the greater society are only dealt with in broad headlines since the primary focus is on John. Also, I found that their test was a little too easily accepted as scientific fact. Of course these simplifications are needed for the story to work, but I wasn’t totally convinced of what happened. My reading experience might have been hampered a bit by reading “The Algorithms for Love” the same day. It has a completely different approach to dealing with humans free will, but managed to create a more personal depth to it, whereas this story had a broader and distanced perspective.
Ken Liu is a gifted writer that has a talent for combining hard science fiction concepts with human emotions in beautiful written stories. This story from 2004 is among his best.
The story follows Elena who is a genius with robotics and language algorithms. She has created a very lifelike robotic doll that is both able to speak almost fluently and has very advanced motoring skill. The doll quickly becomes immensely popular and the company she works for has trouble keeping up with demand. She partners up with Brad, the CEO of the company, and she gets pregnant. Sadly, they lose the child during pregnancy and Elena is unable to get pregnant again. This emotionally devastates Elena and she buries herself in working on a new robotic doll, this time one that resembles a newborn. That too becomes a product sold by the company, with mostly other grieving mothers as customers.
As the story progresses, Elena becomes more and more obsessed with her creations. Working so intense with especially the speaking algorithms, she starts to view the real world in the same algorithmic terms. She knows how her own algorithms work and that everything they produce are mathematically predictable, which she increasingly believe is also true for human behaviour. Basically her worldview breaks down as she questions whether human are even conscious or any different from the artificial intelligence she has created. That everything we do is inherently deterministic. There are some direct references to the Chinese Room argument on the matter.
Liu manages to weave all these philosophical questions about the nature of consciousness into a very beautiful written short story, that has the technology used described in a plausible way while still keeping focus on the human emotions and making them engaging and believable for the reader.
Read in Twenty-First Century Science Fiction Originally published on strangehorizons.com Rating: 5
This was a real positive surprise. At first I was a bit weary with yet another AI robot human relationship story. 2021 and 2022 has had too many stories with that sort of theme. This story reconfirms my opinion that the best AI robot stories are at least 10 years behind us, even though it is immensely popular now.
We follow Adriana and her relationship with the android Lucien she has bought for companionship. During their together Lucien develops his own personality and they also end up having a child. The plot is minimal, the important stuff is in the development of these three characters and their feelings for each other – especially as Lucien develops more free will. Hence the title of the story with the different types of love.
What I think works exceptionally well here is how it is told with various jumps back and forward in time. We know the outcome, or at least hints of it, but not why or how yet. Even in a relatively short story, the author manages to show us the developments of three personalities at once. The point of view is mostly for Adriana, but the childs and Luciens character development is equally important.
Read in Twenty-First Century Science Fiction Read online at Tor.com Rating: 4
This is a pretty short story set in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has killed almost everyone. A woman is strolling through an abandoned supermarket for supplies when she spots a man. Seeing other people alive is a rare event, so her first response is to flee.
However the man overpowers her, captures her and they go back to where she and another woman lives. The man tries to convince them that they shoudl get pregnant with him, so they can repopulate the Earth – and this will be a spoiler for the ending but I honestly don’t think readers will be missing much, but the women manages to kill him. Apparently they have killed several men before in a similar fashion.
It seems like the story at least to a degree tries to mimmick “Houston, Houston, do you read” by James Tiptree, Jr. with a premise of characterizing men as ultimately violent and misogynistic. Where the classic Tiptree story had fully fleshed out characters and handled the topic with plenty of ambiguity and nuances, this story simply turns the caricature of an incel man up to 11 only to kill him off instantly. All rather pointless and without any depth at all to the topic the story wants to deal with.
Rusch is usually a reliable author of good entertaining stories and this court-drama is no exception. It is part of her Retrieval Artist stories, but I only realized that afterwards and the story is perfectly fine on its own.
The story follows a lawyer trying to do her best in an interspecies court system where humans have to accept being prosecuted by alien law. This has created a very stressful system for the lawyers, where the best case scenario usually is just a reduced sentence, even though the crime is something small like stepping on a flower or simply touching a specific alien.
As what is often a main ingredient in these types court room dramas, a special case comes along that needs some creative thinking and the use of loopholes in some old laws. That aspect of the story is fine, but the highlight for me was the whole background setting, where we get small drops of details about how this whole ordeal is one big diplomatic trade between Earth and various aliens in order to get access to the galactic trade network. Rich people can of course buy their way out of trouble, but regular people just have to accept being judged cruelly by alien laws they have little way of avoiding. In addition, the main character is a likeable type that really tries to good within the system. All in all a fairly straight forward story that mostly goes where you expect it to, but it was an enjoyable and entertaining read.
Aliens have turned down the light from the sun causing a global iceage and humans have fled into underground habitats where there is still some heat from the Earths core. A few decades later, some teenagers want to see the sun and the sky – even though they have only heard about in stories from their parents. They set out to make it happen by taking some submarines further than anyone has ever done.
This plot unfolds between the present where a father is searching for his daughter and uncovering what she and her friends are up to, and some flashback scenes from when the girl was younger in which she and we as readers gets some more background on the events that led to this.
This story is quite similar to “A Pail of Air”. Similar premise and same theme about humans finding almost poetic hope in a terrible situation. In places Torgersens tend to be a bit on the sentimental side, but I was still somewhat moved by the story and how it portrays the need for hope and optimism in desperate situations.
This story is set in a near future Silicon Valley where a tech billionaire gets his friend to test a prototype of a bracelet that is able to detect the current mood of the wearer. It glows different colors depending on whether the person is intrigued, skeptical, afraid, excited and so on.
At least that is where it begins, because the story quickly takes some wild turns where we end up in a parallel world with an highly advanced Roman empire. Apparently, the tech billionaire has stolen some of his tech through a portal to this world.
There are quite a few interesting concepts introduced here and a couple of noteworthy jabs at the tech billionaires of the present, but it is simply too many things crammed into too few pages. The story starts in a normal pace, then quickly goes into overdrive and then it is all over with a couple of timelapse paragraphs. These kind of ideas could really have benefited from at least a novella to come properly together.
This debut story had a setup that reminded me of “Welcome Home” by Jendayi Brooks-Flemister in Asimov’s January/February 2022. In a dystopian future Ava is struggling raising her three children alone and she is under constant surveillance by the government. Even minor missteps might get her to lose custody of her kids. One day she gets an offer to relocate to a company owned small community town in Florida and she see no other option to accept.
At her new home she meets with other families like herself and the staff that treats her and her kids well. Their basic needs are taken care of, the kids can go to a good school and everyone is helping one another in this small community. It is almost paradise. Ava barely has time to question the whole thing, but we as readers are just waiting for the catch or the twist. It has an overtone of everything being too good to be true.
Unsurprisingly there is a twist at the end that turns things around, but I found it to be a very rushed and a bit unlikely ending. Still, this is a debut story and I genuinely think the author has successfully written an engaging story with properly developed characters, but the actual plot could use some work.
Read in Fantasy & Science Fiction, January/February 2023 Rating: 2+
This long novella was a tough one to get through. It is basically one long love letter homage to Elon Musk. Even without the recent Twitter debacle I don’t think Musk is someone who deserves much praise. He might have grand ideas about humans colonizing space in the near future, that can seem admirable especially for science fiction fans. But with his complete lack of basic human decency, I wouldn’t wish for a future led by people like him. At times I was unsure whether this whole thing is meant as satire, but I actually don’t think so.
The story takes place at least 100 years in the future and a slow colonization of the solar system is in progress. The story is told like a journal and autobiography by a business man who has named himself Elon Tesla in honor of Musk – who allegedly showed humans the way to colonize space. Now Elon Tesla takes the credit for terraforming Mars, building space habitats around Jupiter and the creation of hibernation technology allowing humans to travel great distances in time and space without reducing their biological lifespan. The background frame around Teslas lifestory is the discovery of an alien spacecraft on course for Earth that will reach us in a thousand years. And he wants to meet them.
The whole Elon Musk fanism is bad enough but even if I tried to read it with that name erased, the story is really just very boring. Things are told with broad strokes about all the big developments without any details. A story written as an autobiography really needs an interesting character to be worth it, but Elon Tesla has basically no personality at all. It is unclear what he even does. He is not a brilliant engineer inventing stuff making it all possible. He doesn’t even has the big ideas. Seemingly all he does is provide funding for other peoples ideas and then takes the credit. In that sense, I guess he resembles Elon Musk.
Clarkesworld continues to bring great translated stories. This story is translated from Chinese by Blake Stone-Banks and is another story that deals with death and especially what makes a life worth living.
In some unspecified dystopian future a state handles the overpopulation by offering a program that gives people a good deal of money if they accept certain death at a younger age. The story follows a man called K Li who takes such a deal and the story is split between his meeting with an advisor that administers the practicalities when he accepts the deal as a teenager and later in his life when his time is almost up. The deal is enforced with a drug that will slowly and painfully kill when the specified time of death is reached, which can be avoided if they seek out voluntary euthanasia at the states clinic.
Most of the story takes places when K Li is around 40 years old and the drug will soon kill him. He lives in an apartment building with other “upstarts” – the term used for those who have taken this deal. It is clear that even though he got several millions he could use until his death some 20 years later, he hasn’t had a good life. He spends most of his time being passed out drunk in his apartment, not unlike many of the other “upstarts” in his apartment complex. The deal might give people money, but lots of rights are also taken away and the rest of the population seems to resent the “upstarts”.
One day a young woman shows up at his door and convinces him that there might be an antidote for the drug that will soon kill him, and she leads him to what appears to be some sort of resistance group. The story evolves into an exciting thrillerplot with quite a surprising ending.
What I think makes this story work so well and why I would consider it worthy in a “best of the year”-anthology is how it tackles this “deal with Devil”-type scenario with a proper amount of emotional depth without going overboard into melancholy. There is also a pretty exciting thriller plot and both parts are given enough space in the story, so one is not merely a piece to make the other element work. We don’t get a lot of background information on this society or why it handles overpopulation in such a way, but it is not needed to make the story engaging and thought provoking in how to put value on a human life.
This story is a unique mix of non-fiction and fiction dealing with a very realistic near future technology of chatbots run by AI – especially with the recent ChatGPT.
The story takes the form of a mix between an article referring to past events and a regular short story told from the point of view a reporter. It starts with events leading to a suicide of a businessman who was under investigation for knowingly selling faulty pacemakers. Apparently he got a ton of private messages through various digital channels in the months leading to his suicide. The messages were very demeaning and could have pushed him over the edge to commit suicide. The reporter investigates the origins of these messages in this and similar cases, and through her investigation discovers an automated chatbot named Sylvie. But the bot doesn’t just try to push bad people to commit suicide, it also uses the same machine learned algorithms to help people in need. All this is mixed with various fact infodumps about machine learning technology and some philosophical arguments about the ethical and legal issues of such an autonomous chatbot.
The story is very successful is introducing some interesting dilemmas we might very soon face with current technology. I am just not sure it entirely works as a fiction short story since it is mostly an opinion essay on the subject, but I can also see how using a fictionalized case study to explore the issues makes the morale questions easier to relate to. A story worth reading but a mixed experience.