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

Descartes’s Stepchildren by Robert Scherrer

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.


Read in Analog January/February 2013
Rating: 3

The Impossibles by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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.


Read in Analog December 2011
Rating: 3+

Ray of Light by Brad R. Torgersen

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.


Read in Analog December 2011
Rating: 3+

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+

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+

The Last Command by Keith Laumer

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

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

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+

Rescue Party by Arthur C. Clarke

This is the first story in the anthology The World Turned Upside Down edited by Jim Baen, David Drake and Eric Flint. Their premise for the selection was stories that impressed them when they first read them – usually at a young age. I found that important to remember when reading this story from 1946 today, because it didn’t “wow” me that much but it is clear to see why it would have made an impression if I have read a story like that earlier in my science fiction reading life.

The story is told from the perspective of aliens visiting our solar system because the sun is about to explode and they want to save as many lives as possible. They are surprised that radio signals is coming from the system because the system was visited “only” four hundred thousands years ago and for these beings it is almost inconceivable that an intelligent species could have evolved so quickly. They find an Earth devoid of life, but with abandoned cities and structures – among that where the radio transmission was coming from.

There is a lot to like about the, for the time, original perspective of letting aliens explore Earth and tell a future human history from their perspective with various misconceptions. But it is somewhat lacking as a story because it is mostly aliens observing and making their conclusions. Also, many stories have been written since then exploring similar themes – and many were likely inspired by this – so it comes out as somewhat predictable.

However, it is a good example of what science fiction stories in the Golden Age of Astounding in the 1940s could produce and an important story for the history of the genre.


Read in The World Turned Upside Down
First published in Astounding Science Fiction, May 1946
ISFDB Link
Read the story at baen.com
Rating: 3+

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+

Sparrows by Susan Palwick

This short story barely has a plot, but it does contain a nice character study in what some people might do in the last moments before some unexplained apocalypse. Here we follow a student who basically just want to hand in her paper on Shakespeare to her professor before the worlds end. I was impressed with how much character and personality Palwick creates for the student and the professor in such few pages.


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