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 common thing for science fiction stories is to take a current trend and extrapolate it into a more extreme form. This short story looks at social media influencers in a future where the technology allows a bit more following than today.
Amber is a popular influencer with many followers. She gets lured into taking it to the next level with an operation that gives her an implant in her brain, allowing her follows to hear, see and feel literally everything she feels. Anything just short of reading her thoughts. At first she is horrified, she didn’t read the fine print in the contract, but accepts her situation since it is only 6 months.
Most of the story is pretty straightforward and somewhat predictable with its message, however it takes a rather dark turn in the end. A good story but I was slightly annoyed that the whole premise relied too much on Amber not reading anything about what she actually signed up for. I thought that could have been handled better.
Read in Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2023 Rating: 3
This was a good and very Analog-ish story with believable scientists doing science. Which I always love.
A young professor is given some papers from his former supervisor after his death. Among the papers is a long list of various mathematicians, physicists and cosmologists from around the world. Many names with a checkmark next to them, some without. One of the names is his own – without a checkmark. At first he tries to ignore it, but he becomes increasingly intrigued by the puzzle.
This will be a slight spoiler for the story, but I think most readers will be able to see broadly where this is going. The names that has a mark have all died – some of natural causes and others by more strange circumstances, usually at a young age. All were doing interesting work in their fields, though without any clear link. It is revealed that all the scientists were doing work that could potentially lead to the invention of time travel. And something is trying to prevent that of happening.
This premise have been done at least a couple of times before, but that doesn’t take anything away from Chase who has written an engaging and thought provoking story about the limits of scientific research.
McAuley sets this long novella at around 2060 in a world trying to deal with climate change, though that is not central to the story – merely an inevitable pre-condition.
The plot moves rather slowly and mostly concerns world building, with a few somewhat crude jabs at what people in our present time did wrong. We follow Rose who suffers from being a victim to some sort of psychic weapon. She knows of a clinic in Czech Republic that might have a treatment, but she needs some money first. She comes across some information about a stack of soul chips that could be valuable. The so called soul chips was an attempt for people to upload their minds into a chip in the hope of living forever once the technology has advanced enough. Though it becomes pretty clear that it was more or less a scam based on crude machine learning creating superficial simulations of human personalities. However, in this lower-tech future some collectors find them intriguing.
This story is really mostly about our present and less about this future. The characters have plenty of conversations about our time and how people were back then, their hopes for the future and naive outlook that things could just continue forever. I think McAuley gets across what he wants to say without being overly didactic and still giving the reader an interesting story on its own.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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+
This story from 1962 takes places more than 70 years after a big war. A war fought with big intelligent war machines. Now the war is almost forgotten, but some of the machines are still buried deep underground and one is awakened by nearby construction work. The intelligent machine is still operating as if the war is going and it is heading straight for the city. Now an old and retired soldier is the only one who may be able to persuade the machine to stop its mission.
What I found most interesting about this otherwise pretty straightforward story, is how differently my reading was compared to the editors of The World Turned Upside Down. Their comments on the story focuses on its portrayal of being a war veteran and showing the sense of duty soldiers have. They even see the machines as somewhat sympathetic. My take on the story was more in the direction of being a warning against autonomous war machines. How dangerous it is to have intelligent weapons acting on their own lying around, especially after the war has ended. A concern that becomes even more relevant with the military technology of the present, where we are already seeing autonomous drones being used to some extent. That doesn’t negate what the editors say about the story though and I still found it worth reading.
Read in The World Turned Upside Down Originally published in Analog January 1967 ISFDB Link Rating: 3
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.
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.
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.