• The World in a Ramen Cup by Jayde Holmes

    This story delivers exactly what its title says. It manages to put a lot of deep meaning and feeling into a cup of instant noodles and it is among the best stories from Analog this year.

    An alien called Tk’Kii-mi have aquired the last existing human food from Earth - a ramen cup. The alien belongs to a species that through digestion of food “save” stories from other beings. Tk’Kii-mi has invited The Last Human (not the last human alive, just the last human to have come from Earth) to share this cup of noodles with him - with the purpose of digesting the humans story.

    Tk-Kii-mi has some expectations to the story. He is looking for something grand that capture Earths entire history. However, The Last Human is just a normal woman missing her home planet and can only share her personal memories from her normal life. But her feelings and associations related to tasting a simple cup of instant noodles again, might just be the perfect portal into what life on Earth was like.

    In a short number of pages the story portrays two interesting characters with an insight into their motivations and learnings they each gain from sharing a simple meal. Highly recommended.

    Read in Analog July/August 2023
    Rating: 4+

  • First Words by Michael Randle

    What will the first words spoken on Mars be? Can anything top Niel Armstrongs famous words from the Moon?

    This very short simply follows the astronaut that is going to be the first human to set foot in Mars and his struggle with finding out what his first words will be. There is nothing more to it than that, but it effectively portrays a believable scenario showing all the doubts the first human on Mars will likely have in that situation. Suffice to say, the story does end with the first words spoken on Mars - some may find it fitting and others disappointing.

    Read in Analog July/August 2023
    Rating: 3

  • Let the Games Begin by Robert Friedman & Barry N. Malzberg

    This quirky humorous story filled with meta genre references takes the form of an email correspondence between Rob who claims to be abducted by aliens and Barry who doesn’t believe it but is never the less somewhat helpful with creative analysis of Robs situation.

    This story is aimed at science fiction fans that can appreciate this form of meta referential humour. It is well written, funny and does give the reader an interesting mystery plot to follow about what is really going on.

    Read in Asimov’s July/August 2023
    Rating: 3

  • Alphas by Gregory Benford

    Aliens are in the solar system and headed for Venus. They completely ignore Earth and humans, and when some contact is finally established their message is basically saying to leave them alone and they won’t harm Earth.

    Of course humans being humans can’t handle their curiosity, so even though several unmanned probes come back destroyed, a manned expedition is still sent to see what the aliens are up to at Venus.

    What they find can best described as a giant hoop that is cutting Venus in half like a cheese string cutter. They get too close to the thing and most of the story is dealing with engineering and physics problem solving.

    This is proper hard sf complete with diagrams and math equations. I don’t believe you need any special knowledge on physics to get the story, but a certain interest in these kinds of thought experiment stories is probably required. I can appreciate these kinds of stories, Greg Egan is a master in it, but there needs to be more than just the problem and the weird physics thought experiment. The protagonist has an interesting AI assistent that helps him on the way, but other than that, it feels like the story mostly exist for the author to play around with a fun physics problem.

    Read in The 1990 Annual World’s Best SF
    Originally published in Amazing Stories, March 1989
    ISFDB Link
    Rating: 2+

  • Fermi's Silence by Jay Werkheiser

    As the title shows this is a short story dealing with a possible explenation for the famous Fermi’s Paradox.

    The story switches between two viewpoints both asking the same question. Why haven’t we detected alien life yet? One is human and the other is likely some silicium based life form. They both go back and forth with all their various data readings and observations, and unsurprisingly are only looking for life signs like themselves thus missing the others.

    The story is only four pages and sort of amusing, but its point is fairly obvious and unoriginal from the start, so there isn’t much more to the story than that.

    Read in Analog July/August 2023
    Rating: 2

  • Cheaper to Replace by Marie Vibbert

    We probably all have experiences with having something broken but it seems impossible or at least economical pointless to repair, and it is just easier and cheaper to buy a new one. So it is not unreasonable to imagine a future where planned obsolescence is applied to humanoid robots.

    The story follows Hahn who is trying to repair her already old robot James. Everyone tells her it will easier to replace but she is clearly emotional attached to this very specific unit. There may be workarounds in their programming giving them the option of being functional just a bit longer.

    It is very clear that the author wants to write a story criticizing planned obsolescence and she basically succeeds with this touching simple story. I just wish it had a little bit more than that, because while it has a couple of charming moments it never goes anywhere unexpected.

    Read in Clarkesworld July 2023
    Rating: 2+

  • Vast and Trunkless Legs of Stone by Carrie Vaughn

    Aliens arrive on Earth but instead of saying “take me to your leader”, they say “I want a conversation with a normal person”. A familiar concept but slightly different.

    Mal has been chosen for the task and an army of government advisors have tried to prepare her for the conversation she is supposed to have alone with the alien. Unsurprisingly, all the plans for getting the secrets to their propulsion system goes out the window when the alien steers the conversation at something completely different.

    It is a nice little story about first contact expectations and what really matters in the universe. The meat of the story is the unique conversation Mal has with the alien, where Vaughn really captures the nervous ramblings that would be likely for any person in that situation. I liked how the story writes itself into tbe tradition of more positive first contact stories and aliens with a mostly information gathering motivation.

    Read in Clarkesworld June 2023
    Rating: 3+

  • Better Living Through Algorithms by Naomi Kritzer

    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.

    Read in Clarkesworld May 2023
    Rating: 4

  • The Snack by Bud Spurhawk

    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.

    Read in Analog March 2013
    Rating: 3

  • Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo by John Varley

    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