Review #29: Aphrodisia by Lavie Tidhar

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Sep 8, 2010 in Reviews

Author website: http://lavietidhar.wordpress.com/
Published by: Strange Horizons, August 2010

Photo by Christine Zenino Creative Commons

The Story:

A hub junkie, a hafmek, and a tentacled worm walk into a bar…

Three nest-brothers from Mars are running away from their pasts, and end up on the gritty, non-protocol streets of Earth. Here, the temperatures aren’t regulated, and neither are the people. It seems like a good place to escape reality, but no-space pop deity Aphrosisia’s music haunts our poor, washed up hub character. He’s still in love with her, though he’s been barred from no-space, the plugs in his skin filled in with bone and blood.

The Craft: 20 Master Plots: Love

SPOILERS

If you don’t feel the pain of unrequited love in this story, then you’ve got a socket for a heart. It’s a classic “Boy meets Girl, but…” situation, the but being the girl is an Upload Deity, everywhere and nowhere at once and the boy is a self-mutilated hub junkie banned from the no-space that she inhabits. There’s a physical (non-physical?) barrier that keeps them from meeting. Taunted by Aphrodisia’s music, the hub junkie can’t take the separation any longer and decides to jack in with the help of a back-street fixer.

The lovers are reunited in no-space where our character tries to plead his case, but is swept up in her lyrics. She once was flesh like him, but now she is real, a queen. Her message is that she is moving on, beyond no-space. Our character wakes up, so pathetic and bleeding from his wounded sockets. He doesn’t know what is beyond no-space, but there are no boundaries that he won’t cross for Aphrodisia’s love.

Short and sweet, this has to be one of my favorite stories of the year. Its intricate world building left me gasping for air and scratching my head and wanting more. I loved how seamlessly all of the tech and otherworldlyness blended it. It was our normal that stood out in this piece, as illustrated by the line “Earth is different to anything you can imagine.” The characters are endearing. Definitely a must read, and it’s even more fun on the second read.

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Review #28: Stem, Stone, and Bone by Deb Taber

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Aug 8, 2010 in Reviews

Author Website: http://www.inkfuscate.com/
Published by: Fantasy Magazine, August 2nd, 2010

stonePhoto by Jurvetson Creative Commons

The Story:

Jacinta has spent her days working in the cocoa groves of Venezuela since she was a child, collecting the beetles that hatch from the trees and slicing off their legs and proboscises with a little knife attached to her thumb. The lifeless beetles resemble beans, and the world is not ready or willing to think otherwise. There was a time when the children would go out and race beetles in the evenings as their parents got drunk on the black, blood wine of their harvests. But those times are gone now. There are no children being born in the Shining City anymore. The women only give birth to dull, lifeless stones, and life is changing all around them.

The Craft: 20 Master Plot – Metamorphosis

SPOILERS

This is such a lovely metamorphosis story since there are so many levels of change. Life and death, childhood to adulthood, stone to stem to bone to stone. But the cycle is broken, and Jacinta is worried about her future and that of the Shining City.  With no children being born, there will soon be no one left to harvest the beetles. Already there are no nimble-bodied little ones to pick up the cocoa beetles that have slipped to the ground.

Jacinta gave birth to a stone once, and not even a pretty one. Now, this world of hers is falling apart — dogs are giving birth to gemstones and caterpillars fall to the earth and become seeds. Jacinta gets it fixed in her mind that she wants to become a mother again, and since none of the men she knows would curse her with the pain of bearing another stone child, she goes into the city and tricks a man into impregnating her. Again she goes through the metamorphosis of motherhood, bearing a stone, but it is her stone, her child, her love, and her emotional journey is fulfilled.

There’s so much awesome in this story, I don’t even know where to start. The writing was superb, and the story sucked me in with its inventiveness and fully fleshed out world. The characters had depth, and I could easily feel for Jacinta’s plight. It’s simply a beautiful story, beautifully executed.

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Review #21: A Jar of Goodwill by Tobias S. Buckell

Posted by Nicky Drayden on May 6, 2010 in Reviews

Author Website: tobiasbuckell.com
Published by: Clarkesworld Magazine

Photo by MGShelton Creative Commons

The Story:

Stuck in perpetual air-debt on a space orbital, professional Friend Alex Mosette is out of options. Well, not completely out of options. There’s always the old fallback of going into hibernation in between jobs to minimize air consumption, but there’s also a new opportunity on a recently docked ship offering half a point on the package, enough for Alex to pay off all air debts and live comfortably — maybe even comfortably enough to upgrade from the cramped, coffin-like quarters Alex now calls home. The details of the contract are sketchy at best, but the risk is more palatable than spending unending days as a corpsicle aboard the orbital.

Aboard the ship, half-truths and strained allegiances are abound as the details of the contract are spelled out: Alex is to serve as a professional Friend to a Compact Drone, an entity detached from the Compact’s hive-mind sent to help determine if ant-like aliens on a newly discovered world qualify as intelligent life. As a Friend, Alex has to gain the Drone’s trust, and keep it sane during their mission. The Drone’s decision could mean the difference in walking away from this gig rich, or filthy rich, though as the truth unfolds, Alex might just be satisfied to walk away from this alive.

The Craft: World Building

SPOILERS

Oh, this is another fun one full of complex socioeconomic structures, artificial gender-bending, and alien botany. Before we talk about world building, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how well this worked as a story — tension and mystery in all the right spots, twists and turns, and characters that really bleed when you prick them. What I love about A Jar of Goodwill is that it’s full of delectable BIG IDEAS, and yet they fit so comfortably in this short story, which pushes more into the realms of a novelette at about 8000 words, but every single one of them is worth it, working double time as they draw you deeper and deeper into this world.

The first big idea of this world revolves around air rationing, not an entirely new concept, but the execution of it in this piece reads like mind candy. Sure there’s only so much air to go around in space, but what happens when a person uses more than their quota and can’t pay? What are the options? Bottom feeders like Alex don’t have a lot of options, but you can bet on a space orbital, there are hundreds, if not thousands of people going paycheck to paycheck, their priority not being food or shelter, but air, something that we earthbound fools take for granted every single day. So while in this story we don’t spend a lot of time on the orbital, we do get a sense of the desperation for those living in cubbies, and when Alex sees the spacious 5×7 living quarters with free air on the ship, we can instantly relate to the thrill.

Putting a price tag on first contact is also a great idea. The planet Ve is a goldmine waiting to be tapped. Someone will get rich off of it, but now it’s only a matter of who, depending on whether or not the ant aliens are intelligent. The reader knows they are, the characters know they are, but that’s not what’s important. It’s all about what they can do about it to serve their own agendas and fatten their own wallets. The Vesians are doomed either way. Let me also say that Ve is a jewel of worldbuilding, with acid spewing plants, leaves like black Glad bags, and dog-sized ants breathing green atmosphere that’ll melt your skin off. But to the Vesians, it’s a little slice of heaven, and perhaps they too think it’s worth fighting for.

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