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 #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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Review #20: The City of Lobster, or, The Dancers on Anchorage St. by Alex Dally MacFarlane

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Apr 30, 2010 in Reviews

Author Website: http://www.alexdallymacfarlane.com
Published by: Fantasy Magazine, March 2010

lobsterPhoto by Paula Ouder, courtesy LSGCP Creative Commons

The Story:

A British newspaper columnist named Sasha travels across the country, hoping to snag an interesting story on a curious city whose entire industry revolves around lobster. Tourists flock in droves during the summer, delighting in succulent whole lobster, curried lobster, lobster pasta, grilled, on a bun, or with veggies. The recipes seem endless, but the summer is not. No one knows what goes on in the city in the winter months, when the tourists leave and the city’s gates shut behind them.

The Craft: World Building

SPOILERS

The classic fish out of water (lobster out of water?) point of view is a great way to introduce the details of a world without being artificial. We get to see The City of Lobster through Sasha’s eyes and experience its wonders from a fresh perspective. Sasha arrives and takes the city in, smells the salt air, walks along the seafront, sees a woman dressed as a lobster welcoming people back to the city. It’s unremarkable to Sasha in the beginning, not quite living up to her expectations of this wonderfully weird place. But as she settles in, she learns more about the city’s history and legends, like how during a festival that happens once every five years, the entire city dresses up like lobsters. There’s also a tale of a lobster-maid — half lobster, half woman — who leaves her home in the sea on an occasion so rare, it won’t happen twice in any person’s lifetime. Legends and history are not only interesting tidbits for the reader, but also help bring the city to life, cementing it in a timeline that exists beyond the story itself.

After a conversation with the woman dressed as a lobster, Sasha begins to wonder about how the city’s inhabitants live after the tourists have gone. She herself grows tired of eating lobster and seeks out other meats: chicken, crab, mussel. Unfortunately, one of those delectable morsels sends her stomach churning, making her so ill she requires hospitalization. The city’s gates close while she’s still hooked up to IVs. When she’s well enough to venture out, she sees that all traces of lobster have been scrubbed from the town. Sasha stumbles upon a festival on Anchorage Street with people dressed in all manners of costume, not a single one of them a lobster.

Sasha faces a delima on how to present her article. Clearly these people value their privacy, keeping their lives outside of tourist season a secret. For those summer months, everything goes into maintaining that facade so that they have the resources to be themselves for the rest of the year. But if she doesn’t report all that she’s learned, her article will be nothing more than a half-truth. The city wears two skins, Sasha decides, leaving vague hints in her article for those who dare to see them, and perhaps seek the truth for themselves. And as readers, we’ve seen a glimspe of these two skins and the mysteries that live between them — opposite sides of a coin, but both rich and full of delicious details.

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