Direct Message by Tom Pike

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.


Read in Analog January/February 2023
Rating: 3

The Last Man by Eric Leif Davin

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.


Read in Galaxy’s Edge January 2023
Rating: 1

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+

Up and Out by Norman Spinrad

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.


Read in Asimov’s January/February 2023
Rating: 1

Upstart by Lu Ban

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.


Read in Clarkesworld December 2022
Rating: 4

Murder by Pixel: Crime and Responsibility in the Digital Darkness by S.L. Huang

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.


Read in Clarkesworld December 2022
Rating: 3

Sacrificial Drones by John Shirley

There is a lot going on in this near future thriller. Drones, high tech weapons, rejuvenation technology and more all mixed into a fast moving story about an old multibillionaire, a young scientist and murderous villains.

The short story has a tragic prologue about a boy witnessing the assassination of his parents. The story jumps to the year 2049 and early in the story it becomes apparent that the boy is Jacob Maweela – now a rich philanthropist in his 80s who has recently had rejuvenation treatment making him around the age of 30 again. The story is told from the point of view of a young researcher, Kaela, who is approached by Jacob to further develop her nanodrone technology to provider better healthcare in poor countries. However, Jacob is also under constant threat of assassination from the same people who killed his parents. Kaela and Jacob develops sort of a close non-romantic relationship while the plot unfolds.

There are plenty of things to like in this story, but also quite a few issues that make me wish that it was given an extra round of editorial rework to reach its potential. The story lacks focus in my opinion. Too many elements and plotpoints are introduced that it is hard to keep track of what is actually important. The rejuvenation? The technology that can help poor people? The assassination plot? The relationship between Jacob and Kaela? All fascinating topics on their own, but the story is not long enough to give enough depth or meaning to much of it. The main focus seems to be Jacobs internal struggle with how he can protect his family and employees from the death threats, but since the story is told from Kaelas viewpoint, we only get a distanced look at Jacobs thoughts and actions.

The author does manage to create a very authentic and believable future, which makes the story recommendable, but I feel it is also a missed opportunity for a tighter and more focused plot.


Read in Fantasy & Science Fiction, November/December 2022
Rating: 3

Jazz Age by Mark Tiedemann

This long novella is set in a future where humans have been in contact with an alien race called the Trishti for about 50 years. These aliens tell of a huge galaxy with plenty of other peaceful aliens. But humans must develop their own stardrive first to join this galactic community, while the Trishti are helping in small ways.

The author paints a peaceful and prosperous future in this scenario, where humans have adapted a lot of Trishti culture like naming their children inspired by Trishti names. Most people seem to like the aliens, but a few are also skeptical because humans have now become so dependent on them.

The plot gets going when the leader of the Omicron–project, the project that is working on the stardrive, declares they have succeeded. The Trishti then announce that their work here is done and starts to leave. However – the project is nowhere near finished and it was all a lie that somehow should have deceived the Trishti into revealing more of their secrets. This sets several things in motion with a political and diplomatic scandal as people try to convince the Trishti to stay. But the aliens may also have their own secrets that turns things around.

This story has plenty of good elements for an interesting thriller with mysterious aliens, political intrigue and deceitful plot treads. It is slow going though and the story is too long. It presents some interesting glimpes of how society has changed with 50 years of influence from the aliens, but it isn’t used for that much in the story. Also, most of the plot development is driven by people keeping various secrets and only reveal them when the story needs it. It is not my favorite way of storytelling, but the plot twists are interesting in their own right. Throughout the story there are a few mentions of the Trishtis music, which I assume explains the title of the story, but it was never really clear to me why that element should be so important – other than being something intriguing about them.


Read in Analog November/December 2022
Rating: 3

Seen by Lisa C. Herbert

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.

Analog November/December 2022

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.


Read in Analog November/December 2022
Rating: 3+

Hummingbird, Resting on Honeysuckles by Yang Wanqing

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.


Read in Clarkesworld November 2022
Rating: 4

Lonely Hill by James Maxey

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+

Forty-Eight Minutes at the Trainview Café by M. Bennardo

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.


Read in Asimov’s November/December 2022
Rating: 4

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+

Cryptonic by Aurelien Gayet

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.


Read in Analog November/December 2022
Rating: 3

Falling Off the Edge of the World by Suzanne Palmer

The cover story for this issue of Asimov’s brings us aboard a spaceship that has some kind of accident. This gets told from two alternating point of views. From the rescueship and from the livestock manager Gabe aboard on the other ship.

I was a bit confused about the structure at first because switching between viewpoints and time usually means that they merge for some reveal in the end. However here it is quickly revealed that the rescue will be successful and that Gabe has survived almost 30 years on the ship. So a good deal of the story is various flash backs of his time on the ship, how he makes food and such, and most importantly – gets in contact with the only other other survivor, Alis. She is in another part of the ship that is sealed off, so they are never able to reach each other but stay in touch with radio communication.

At first I thought the story was well written with a steady engaging flow, as is to be expected by Palmer, but lacking a bit in drama and tension because the immediate dangerous situation is relatively quickly resolved. I also didn’t feel that engaged in the main characters – yet.

Because without saying too much, there is a twist and reveal later in the story that turned things around. That started a very emotionally engaging end to the story and made the Gabe character much more interesting. So it started out as sort of fine 3 star story for me, but turned around to a story I will definitely consider for my vote in the yearly Asimov’s Reader Award poll.


Read in Asimov’s November/December 2022
Rating: 4

Live Update by Lettie Prell

There have been written countless stories about people uploading their mind to a computer simulation, but this story did it from an angle that I haven’t seen often. A group of scientists are working on an early prototype of a computer simulation where they can upload their minds before the die. The premise here is that people die from the procedure. The protagonist of the story is a scientists who is dying of cancer but is hoping to be able to continue her work in this simulation.

Clarkesworld 192

What I like about this premise is that it follows the mind upload technology in its very early stages and convincingly show that that is a very error prone process. Science fiction too often portrays almost perfect technology, but reality is usually more messy with software full of bugs. In this story things go wrong while still being successful. A group of various scientists is living inside a computer simulation but their memories are weird and not reliable. They need to work together with the technicians in the real world to set things straight.

The story is told with alternating scenes from the past and the present situation with the simulation and this works quite well. At 20.000 words it is a bit too long in my opinion, but worth reading none the less.


Read in Clarkesworld September 2022
Rating: 3+

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+

One Night Stand by Eileen Gunn

Every fall issue Asimov’s has a few horror-stories for Halloween, so here we get a ghost story with rape, violence and murder. Terry picks up a shady guy at a bar looking for a one night stand. She ends up dead and her sixteen year old daughter gets kidnapped by the guy. But Terry stays conscious as a ghost where she is able to watch everything that happens and with some effort has the ability to slightly influence the living. She uses that to help the police and help her daughter fleeing from the kidnapper.

There is no science fiction element but I actually liked this rather hard-boiled exciting thriller. Usually not a fan of ghost stories but this was an exception.


Read in Asimov’s September/October 2022
Rating: 3+

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