RogerBW's Blog

Clarkesworld 147, December 2018 10 December 2018

Clarkesworld is a monthly on-line magazine edited by Neil Clarke.

Everything is available in HTML from the magazine's site, and it can be bought in various other formats.

Marshmallows by D.A. Xiaolin Spires is a Christmas-time story in a city that's falling apart: people's implants turn the rats into elves, passing bombers into flying reindeer, and street sleepers into giant marshmallows. (My first thought was of the immense vulnerability to casual criminals that this would bring; it's not addressed.) This might have been the tale of someone breaking out of that anodyne world into real sensation, but by the end of the story the viewpoint character appears to have gone back to preferring the vaguely-pleasant.

Bringing Down the Sky by Alan Bao has a world with atmospheric pollution so bad that people scavenge in mountains for some of the last clean air, to crystallise (somehow) and sell; but most of it is the endlessly repeated message that If You Aren't Poor, You Don't Understand Being Poor. Yeah, OK, I get it, oh, another six thousand words of it, thanks.

When We Find Our Voices by Eleanna Castroianni is a strangely heavy-handed fantasy of colonialism and exploitation; everything else is carefully aligned so that the message will come through. Dreary.

The Names and Motions by Sheldon J. Pacotti has a potential sociopath being treated with "neurotronics", which cause her to want to make everyone laugh. This is about as bad an idea as it sounds. There's a hint of rampancy, but the narrative dissolves into incoherence before it can be resolved.

Master Zhao: The Tale of an Ordinary Time Traveler by Zhang Ran (translated by Andy Dudak) has a food delivery man with a strange tale, of being able to back out of a timeline that's gone wrong and try again; it's spoiled for me by the unquestioning assumption by the characters that there's some kind of important difference between a "side branch" universe from which the traveller might get back and a "main branch" from which he can't, even though there's absolutely no evidence to support this. The story also ends just before the earliest possibility of actually learning anything, which I suppose is the point but still feels like a slap in the face.

Two-Year Man by Kelly Robson is this issue's reprint, and one I've read before in the writer packet for the 2017 Campbell; as I said then, it has a well-shown caste system and the industrial slog of the baby factory, but the reason why the main character suddenly decides to wreck his life is never explored and Robson doesn't even seem to be aware that there is anything odd going on.

The Modern Search for the Fountain of Youth by Doug Dluzen is in what seems to be Dluzen's usual style, an extremely quick survey of some of the current ideas about what causes aging and how it might be prevented. I suppose there must be a target audience for this kind of view, more superficial than you'd get from the same amount of time reading Wikipedia and with no links or references, but I'm not it.

37 Rejections, Language Obsessions, and Dance: A Conversation with Rich Larson by Chris Urie promotes Larson's new short story collection. It's moderately interesting but bittier than the last few interviews.

Another Word: In the Home of Anthony Burgess' Harpsichord by Jason Heller is Heller's description of how he overcame his fear of public speaking (by learning the techniques of how to speak in public). It doesn't go anywhere.

Editor's Desk: A Note to End On by Neil Clarke: the editor wants more stories from outside the US/UK/Canada/Australia, and while he's happy with the Chinese partnership he's still trying to do more.

No Hugo nominations from me for this issue, but there's still decent stuff here.

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