RogerBW's Blog

Clarkesworld 168, September 2020 08 September 2020

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.

"Blue And Blue And Blue And Pink" by Lavie Tidhar has pilots flying light aircraft across "the line" into weirdly-invaded parts of Earth to exchange one sort of contraband for another, but eventually they come back hallucinating and dying or don't come back at all… which is a fine setup, but that's the whole story. There is no more to it than that. The protagonist has no personality, we don't learn anything about why "the line" happened or the nature of the threat or even get lyrical descriptions of things.

"What Remains of Maya Sankovy" by G. D. Angier: the hibernation ship has landed to found the colony, and the "Mothers" and "Fathers" which are androids augmented with human memories… are dull and boring and stupid. Some potentially interesting ideas here but they aren't developed.

"Lone Puppeteer of a Sleeping City" by Arula Ratnakar: the AI that's responsible for making fantasies for hibernating humans has been (deliberately?) made unable to communicate with them, because that's a thing that would work. Like so many modern stories, goes off in a bunch of different directions and doesn't resolve any of them.

"Certainty" by Isabel Lee: oooh how clever it's about extrapolating the entire universe and the author has to invent a new post-quantum deterministic physics just to try to stop the entire readership laughing. Also lots of regret for a love that never happened, which is clearly much more interesting than a mere old science fiction story could ever be.

"Ask the Fireflies" by R. P. Sand: another AI which has been made deliberately unable to communicate with humans in order to set up the story, even though this makes no sense. Might have worked better if not placed in the same issue as Lone Puppeteer.

"Every Plumage, Every Beak" by Nin Harris: post-humans and mythological creatures and thoughtlessness and once you make a decision there's a casual "thirty years later" because nothing else of interest will ever happen to you (actually, it sounds as though some of those thirty years might have been quite interesting, but they didn't interest Harris so they're elided).

"The Book Reader" by Keishi Kajifune, translated by Toshiya Kamei: The Man has caused children to be unable to read paper books, explicitly as a means of stunting their imaginations (they can censor electronic media), because there's no possible drawback to nobody having an imagination.

'"The Moon's a Balloon": Hot Air Balloons and Airships in Speculative Fiction' by Carrie Sessarego: not even the usual literature review, this is more about the actual history of balloons and airships than about their use in fiction, and doesn't have the length to do justice to either.

"Dinosaurs and Metaphors: A Conversation with Sheila Williams" by Arley Sorg promotes her new anthology, which sounds interesting – as does Asimov's under her editorship.

"The Heart of the Story: A Conversation with Scott H. Andrews" by Arley Sorg promotes Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which sounds interesting in spite of an explicit goal of being "literary". (I didn't love the one issue I read, but that was from 2014.)

"Editor's Desk: Warning, May Contain Marketing" by Neil Clarke: Clarke has edited volume 5 of The Best Science Fiction of the Year.

The last Clarkesworld story I actually enjoyed was, now that I check, back in May's issue. Either the magazine has moved further away from my taste or vice versa, or of course both. In any case, I don't think it's a worthwhile use of my time to continue to read it as a regular thing, though I may well check for stories by authors whose work I enjoy.

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Previous in series: Clarkesworld 167, August 2020 | Series: Clarkesworld

  1. Posted by J Michael Cule at 12:12pm on 08 September 2020

    I've been wondering how long your subscription would last for a while.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:01pm on 08 September 2020

    "Subscription" only in the sense that I read it each month; I haven't been paying them anything.

  3. Posted by Jeppe Larsen at 09:07am on 11 September 2020

    Just finished this issue and found your blog while searching for other reviews. Can see I am not the only who thinks the stories are not really going anywhere. Most are well written and sets up an interesting world and cool concepts, there is a sense the world is bigger than the story and that is all fine. The actual stories are just somewhat meh.

    I was really annoyed with "Certainty". Just really ridiculous imagining a machine that can extrapoloate everything in the past and future from quantum states, and they it is just used to resolve some lost love for a widower.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 09:26am on 11 September 2020

    Welcome to the blog, Jeppe!

    I generally favour beginning-middle-end, preferably in that order; a character at least somewhat sympathetic who undergoes some change and/or effects some change on the world. When it's SF/fantasy, I want the worldbuilding to be interesting too, because the real world is huge and there are lots of stories you can tell in it without using SFnal trappings. And (re The Book Reader in this issue) "if you want to send a message, use Western Union".

    There are of course exceptions to all of these. But slice-of-life with worldbuilding blatantly in service of the Author's Point is not a style of story that I tend to enjoy. Though it's clearly a style that works for many people or Clarkesworld wouldn't have any readers left.

    (On the other hand the latest reader's poll seemed to favour stories of the sort I prefer.)

    If I meet one or two of that style in a magazine or anthology (e.g. Cthulhusattva) I tend just to go on to the next thing. But when they're all like that I find it wearing; and I find it particularly odd the way Clarke is willing to put two stories with similar subject matter (e.g. Puppeteer and Fireflies this time round) in the same issue. (I suppose the counterargument would be that one is about the end of human civilisation, and the other is about a badly injured girl; but both of them would be trivially solved if the central AI character could simply speak to people, and in neither case is there any reason why it shouldn't have this capacity.)

    (You may find "all book reviews", at bottom right, interesting.)

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