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 #27: Beach Blanket Spaceship by Sandra McDonald

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Aug 7, 2010 in Reviews

Author Website: http://homepage.mac.com/samcdonald/
Published by: Clarkesworld Magazine, August 2nd, 2010

surfPhoto by Mike Baird Creative Commons

The Story:

Colonel Frank Merullo of the United States Air Force is stuck in a Vee-Reel — a virtual reality movie playing out before his eyes when he’s supposed to be focused on the crew of his spaceship and getting them safely to one of Neptune’s moons. This particular Vee-Reel is his Lieutenant’s creation, an old 1960s teen surf movie with polite, welcoming characters. Merullo is slow to get involved in the movie, sure that at any moment he’ll wake up an be back aboard his ship, but after the Vee-Reel’s failsafe device doesn’t disengage him from the system, Merullo starts to suspect that something else is going on.

The Craft: 20 Master Plot – Discovery

SPOILERS

Stuck in a virtual reality movie that he never authorized, Colonel Frank Merullo does his best to hold on to what ties him to his ship. He refuses to take off his space suit as characters flock around him in their swimsuits at the beach, laying out and catching waves and having the times of their lives. But as the movie progresses and rescue seems less and less likely, Merullo starts to let down his guard some, getting to know the characters and trying to figure out what this simulation is supposed to mean. Away from the Space Corps and its regulations, he finally gets the chance to discover things about himself, of life, love, loss — all the sacrifices he’s made to get to where he is.

The Vee-Reel starts feeling more personal, the characters taking on faces from Merullo’s past. He struggles to hang on to the memories, but they’re slipping fast. He looks for his space suit, his last tie to reality, but it’s gone missing. Five dead gulls lie in the surf, and suddenly Merullo starts to realize the truth, that this is his last chance to deal, to let go of the man that the Space Corps had made him, and reclaim a little bit of himself before his forever is over.

I liked how this story kept me guessing if Merullo really was in a Vee-Reel or simply out of his mind. This journey of his was a very personal one, of him confronting the life that he’d made for himself, fulfilling in so many ways, but lacking in the ways that matter most. This story shied away from melodrama and used symbolism effectively, but I can’t help but feel just a bit slighted by the story, and though it illustrates a good lesson, I wish there was more to chew on.

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Review #24: Red Letter Day by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Jul 4, 2010 in Reviews

Published by: Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September 2010

Photo by Sarah G. Creative Commons

The Story:

A high school counselor and sometimes basketball coach is tasked each year with consoling the students who don’t receive letters from their future selves on Red Letter Day. She knows first hand the devastating effect of not getting a peek into her future, of not getting the tidbit of advice that will encourage a certain career path, or at the least, warn of a grave mistake to be avoided. She’s spent the last 32 years wondering why her future self hadn’t told her to go straight to pro basketball out of high school, or warned her that she’d blow out her knee in her first college game. She’s the kind of person who’d leave a note for her former self, which leaves her to wonder if she won’t survive to write the note at all.

Her fiftieth birthday is now two weeks away, on which she’ll be able to write her letter to her former self. Time travel laws dictate that there can only be one message that goes back into time, with only one specific event mentioned in the letter. These strict laws insure that major past events aren’t purposefully tampered with, though millions of alternate universes are still created from the contacts, and worse, our futures become something limited by a few words scribbled onto paper.

The Craft:

SPOILERS

Red Letter Day is a great example of putting a human face on the implications of time travel. Politics would play heavily into such an invention, and could easily run amok if not strictly controlled. I really enjoyed the solution of the red letters, which allows everyone to have their hand at time travel, though not directly. This piece was also didn’t leave me with my usual time-travel headache by writing off all of the anomalies as alternate universes spurred off of the original. Seeing how the narrator’s life had been changed by not receiving a letter was touching, and it’s interesting that she fell into a life of counseling others who found themselves in the same situation. She gives a lot of thought to the situation, and even though she’s not angsty about it, we can see how deeply this has affected her, throwing her into a life-long puzzle with no solution.

Though this piece is short, it resonates well beyond the events in the story. A broader technological world exists, hinted at through mentions of interactive technology and nanosurgery. I liked how nonchalantly the science is woven into the fiction, not calling attention to itself, but there. And of course, the story poses the moral implications of time travel, even something so seemingly innocuous as a vaguely worded letter from the future — how it can destroy lives just as easily as it can save them. This story is definitely a fun one to think about, especially with the twist ending. What piece of advice would you send to your eighteen-year-old self, if any? Would it differ if you hadn’t received a note the first time around? 

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