Review #23: The Android Who Became a Human Who Became an Android by Scott William Carter

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Jun 13, 2010 in Reviews

Author website: http://scottwilliamcarter.com/
Published by: Analog Magazine, July/August 2010

Photo by JasonR611 Creative Commons

The Story:

Dexter Duff is a private investigator whose already hazardous lifestyle gets a little more dangerous when his three-breasted ex-girlfriend walks back into his life. She’d burned him bad the first time around, cleaning out his bank accounts and taking off with his ship. Now she needs him to help solve the mystery of what happened to her new husband, Vergon Daughn. Yes, that Vergon — the richest manufacturer of stepdocks in the galaxy.

What surprises Duff the most isn’t that his ex-girlfriend is now a multi-millionaire, but that she’d married an android, barely a second class citizen with limited rights. Not that it doesn’t make sense. Ginger had always been emotionally stunted. But then Vergon had gone off and gotten his memories inserted into real flesh and blood as a wedding present to Ginger, and to make matters more complicated, he had the procedure reversed when living as a humanoid wasn’t working out. He hasn’t been seen since. Now Duff’s in a tough position. Does he take the job and risk allowing Ginger back into his life, or is that all he wants in the first place?

The Craft:

SPOILERS

(Story opening available here)

I have to say, I really enjoyed the spin on the classic android becomes a human motif, and this story is a great example of putting a fresh view on old ideas. The story was a little off-putting at first for me as a female reader, though, the opening line being “The last time I saw Ginger, she was sporting two breasts instead of three.” Not that I don’t enjoy a little booby humor, but putting them out there right on the first line made me cringe, and I questioned if I wanted to continue with the story. A few paragraphs in, Duff’s voice fit the standard snarky private dick persona, and brought nothing new to the table, but I pushed through the questionable opening and was glad I did.

Once the story got going, I got wrapped up in the mystery surrounding Vergon’s disappearance and really enjoyed the world building that accompanied it. Duff’s conversation with Bwer Fwer, the biomechanical engineer that performed the human-to-android and android-to-human transferences on Vergon was quite comical. Bwer Fwer had the misfortune of being a single instance of a hive-mind society who are geniuses when they work together, but idiots when separated. Bwer Fwer compensates for this by using a device that simulates an Artificial Intelligence based hive-mind, allowing him to function at a higher level. There are side-effects to the technology, however, causing him to blurt out random lines during his conversation with Duff, making for both comical dialogue and interesting world building. Overall, the witty dialogue was one of the greatest strengths of the story, though it did tend to drag on too long in a few places.

The plot was well stitched together, admirably so. I enjoyed the twists and turns of Duff’s journey, and its profound alieness transported me to this other world. Character development was on the sparse side, but there was enough of it to propel the story forward. All-in-all, The Android Who Became a Human Who Became an Android is another plot-driven, pulpish romp through space. Mark that as the second in this issue. We’ll see what the other stories have to offer.

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Review #22: The Long Way Around by Carl Frederick

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Jun 4, 2010 in Reviews

Published by: Analog Magazine, July/August 2010

lunarooMetal Roo Image by Richard.Fisher Creative Commons

The Story:

Blame it on politics for the inhabitants of First Lunar Outpost being the recipients of a brand new Lunaroo, Australia’s  contribution to the space program. It’s a robot kangaroo with a cockpit designed to hop its passengers around the lunar surface. Aussie engineer Adrian was shipped up with the Roo, and he knows it’s going to be tough selling the lunar residents on this revolutionary method of transport, but what better way to get around in 18% gravity than hopping over rough surfaces? After the Lunaroo’s maiden voyage, however, Adrian might have a hard time selling the idea to himself.

The Craft:

SPOILERS

At the heart of The Long Way Around is the interesting concept of an alternate form of lunar transport that steps away from the old moon buggy fallback. The inhabitants of the First Lunar Outpost are skeptical about how much use it will be under the hostile conditions of the moon. But beggars can’t be choosers, so moon resident Victor volunteers to go with Adrian to take the Lunaroo for a test run out to the solar furnace, five kilometers away from the base. Their plans get changed along the way, and they instead decide to venture to the Silent Earth Radio Telescope even further out.

Navigating the Lunaroo takes some getting used to, with the vehicle being sensitive to the movements of its passengers. A little body English can make turns go easier, but Victor makes a mistake, throwing his weight around and sending the Lunaroo crashing down on its side. The Lunaroo’s forward motion is busted, along with its communications, and Adrian’s knee is as well. Over twenty kilometers away from help, oxygen, and protection from the rising sun, Adrian and Victor must use their wits to find a way to save themselves from death.

The story is full of action and danger, with a hefty dose of science for those who like to geek out on telescopes, radio signals and such. Plus a dab of humor in the form of the real world bureaucracy that would send such an inept design to the moon in the first place. But I found myself wanting more from this story than just a cool concept and action. I wanted to know more about the characters and what brought them to the moon, and see more of the outpost itself. I also had a hard time getting a sense of things spatially, since the description veered towards the sparse side. It was a cute story for what it was, a quick, plot-driven romp around the moon.

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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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