What We Call Science, They Call Treason by Dominica Phetteplace

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.


Read in Asimov’s January/February 2023
Rating: 2

Off the Map by Dane Kuttler

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+

What Would You Pay For A Second Chance? by Chris Kulp

This debut story published in Galaxy’s Edge is a decent space opera type story about a human mind uploaded into a machine.

The story follow Susan who is working in an environment with lots of radiation and she has been diagnosed with a cancer she cannot afford the cure for. She does has the option of continue to “live” with her mind uploaded to a military robot. To continue her existence she must do well in the war. All her actions are rewarded or penalized with a point system and she will be terminated if her point score goes too low – or buy upgrades with enough points earned. On her very first mission she will need to think outside the box to survive.

I like how the story is straight to the point and just throws the reader and the protagonist right into a tough situation. The downside is that we barely get any character development, so even though it is easy to sympathize with Susans situation, it doesn’t have much weight and I didn’t really cared much what happened to her. It is easy to see the story as an allegory for the healthcare system in the US with its unequal access to proper treatment, and I am fine with stories with a message, but this story only manages to scratch the surface of the rather big science fiction theme on mind upload and getting a second life in an artificial body. Still, it is a decent debut story.


Read in Galaxy’s Edge November 2022
Rating: 2

When the Signal is the Noise by Rajan Khanna

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+

A Gun for Dinosaur by L. Sprague de Camp

Using a time machine for a safari trip to prehistoric times, especially the time of dinosaurs, is a well known science fiction trope. This story from 1956 is a classic example of this.

The story is told by a time-travel hunter, who runs a small business taking customers back to prehistoric times to shoot extinct species – like dinosaurs. He recounts a specific trip where he took two very different men back in time to hunt dinosaurs. A small successful businessman, August Holtzinger, who wants to prove to himself and his fiancée that he is “man” enough to take down a big animal. And Courtney James – a hot tempered playboy seeking thrill and adventure. On the trip James acts totally irresponsible shooting everything that moves, Holtzinger gets nervous and he soon questions whether the trip was such a good idea. He could settle for just a minor hunting trophy while James wants the big dinosaurs. And the tour leader just tries to get everyone out alive. Unsurprisingly things go horribly wrong. Suffice to say without spoiling too much – the usual time-travel paradoxes also comes up in the end.

This story is entertaining and pretty straight forward. It has all the classic archetypes for a hunt-in-the-wild story with the levelheaded leader that does things against his own better judgement, a scared passenger regretting even coming along and the hothead causing trouble with his stupid behavior. Especially the last part makes the story less enjoyable for me. I am generally not a fan of stories where the action is driven forward by dumb decisions. Not because everyone is always rational in real world situations, but it is just more interesting to read something where the characters ends up in dangerous situations despite doing most things right. The leader even had the “this is a bad idea” internal dialogue from the start, but went on anyway. Still, it is an important classic for the genre – especially when it comes to dinosaurs and time-travel.


Read in The World Turned Upside Down
First published in Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1956
ISFDB Link
Read the story at baen.com
Rating: 2+

Shepherd Moons by Jerry Oltion

This story is very typical Analog. NASA is testing its very early stages of an asteroid defense system – the DART system (this mission actually happened recently), but during the test they discover something that looks like an artificial structure. After ruling out China and Elon Musk it is clear it must be aliens. NASA prepares a mission to check it out. Who will go and what will they find? The story is mostly light in tone and the discovery is amusing but a little overly positive.

I did find it odd how Oltion apparently felt the need to add a few bashes at American politicians. There is literally a congressman saying:

“… but if we approve this boondoggle, we’ll be sending a man up there. A white man”.

p. 12

With how things are going this is probably pretty realistic, but just seems offbeat to add weird things like that in a story that is about something totally different.

The story has more than few nods to Contact with similar obstacles for the female astronaut to be the one to go on the mission, but this short story doesn’t provide nearly enough depth to the cardboard villains to make it even worth adding in the first place.


Read in Analog September/October 2022
Rating: 2+

Things to Do in Deimos When You’re Dead by Alastair Reynolds

This story by Alastair Reynolds was disappointing – mostly because I expect more from him. The title “Things to Do in Deimos When You’re Dead” is pretty accurate for what the story is about. It is not a fantasy afterlife thing, but more of a uploaded mind stuck in a computer limbo virtual world thing. A man wakes up in a strange place he can’t figure out. Two other people tells him he is dead because the cheap cryosleep method of transport he has used to get around the solar system sometimes fails. The company behind it have written in small print that they are allowed to use the minds of people for whatever purpose in such accidents. But in even rarer cases the minds gets stuck inside a server on Deimos in some sort of virtual limbo before their mind pattern dissolves completely. The man has a hard time accepting that, but the two other people work with him and teach him how to put this situation to good use. Apparently the computer they are stuck in is also a communication hub for very secure digital information in the solar system, but they have found a way of manipulating the datastreams in order to make slight changes that will have positive impact in the real world. Like changing someones credit score so they can get that loan they desperately need.

I have several problems with this. Not the writing because Reynolds can do that, but the whole concept is explained in a very handwavy manner. Reynolds is usually on the harder side of things and too much here didn’t make much sense. Especially the whole manipulation of the datastream annoyed me. They make a point about how this is meant to be a very secure channel, but somehow the data is not even encrypted since they are able to easily manipulate it. There isn’t even a handwavy explanation for why basic data security should have gone backwards in this far future or how these virtual dead minds can do that. That aside, the story is also dragged down by being mostly the two people explaining things to the newcomer. Not much is really happening other than infodumps.


Read in Asimov’s September/October 2022
Rating: 2

Work Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

This story is sort of a sequel to his 2009 Hugo Award winning short story “Bridesicle”. That story was brilliant so I was somewhat skeptical that it should need a sequel. In my mind “Bridesicle” was perfect on its own and didn’t need any followup. Maybe I am biased because of that, but I don’t think this new story works nearly as well. In fact it has a good deal of problems.

The premise of both stories is a future where people can be revived from the dead, but the insurance is expensive so not everybody has that opportunity. A company has taken advantage of this by picking deceased young woman and putting them in frozen storage. Then rich, mostly old, men can order short dates with them and then pay for the revival if she agrees to a marriage contract. It is not even implied, but clearly stated that this basically means that these women only get a second chance at life if they agree to become sex slaves. At least until the rich guy dies.

The original “Bridesicle” handled this beautifully by not dwelling excessively on this abhorrent business concept, but built an interesting story told from the point of view of one of the dead women and her complex relationship with the guy who falls in love with her. That story was in my opinion perfect and a very worthy award winner.

“Work after Eighty” tells a similar story from the point of view of a woman who works at the clinic. One day an old high school friend turns up as one of the newly dead women in the clinic. She takes it upon herself to try and coach her old friend into how she can get out alive by saying the right things to the dirty old men coming to date her. The problem with this story is that it spends almost every page telling the reader how awful this concept is and how horrible these rich old men are.

I don’t mind stories with a political message and there can be plenty of good reasons to make rich men the villains in a story, but in my opinion that cannot stand on its own. There is still a need to write a good story with interesting and complex characters. Perhaps even introduce some ambiguity and create a sense of doubt about the morals for the reader.

I don’t think most people need much convincing that a company that let’s rich men revive young woman to become their “wife” if they want to live again is immoral. Then it becomes somewhat tiresome with a whole story with basically different ways of saying the same thing.

I am probably more harsh on “Work after Eighty” than it objectively deserves. On its own it works for what it wants to achieve, but go read “Bridesicle” if you haven’t.


Read in Asimov’s July/August 2022
Rating: 2