Review: Clarkesworld #149, February 2019

Clarkesworld #149, February 2019

Original Fiction:

  • “East of the Sun, West of the Stars” by Brit E. B. Hvide (science fiction short story)
  • “Painwise” by Robert Reed (science fiction short story)
  • “The Final Ascent” by Ian Creasey (science fantasy novelette)
  • “Give the Family My Love” by A. T. Greenblatt (science fiction short story)
  • “The Face of God” by Bo Balder (fantasy short story)

Clarkesworld #149 is a science fantasy issue, with stories which are not, or do not feel like, science fiction.

In “Family,” Hazel is recording messages to her brother, describing her efforts to reach an alien “library” to recover some lost human research to help us with our climatic (and perhaps climactic) apocalypse. It turns out even the largest, most social issues have personal motivations. This is actually something which impairs the story, for me, and the whole library/journey/dilemma seems contrived but the narrative is crisp and the surreal, fantastic, hyper-VR library is a lot of fun.

Ascent” is nearly as much fun, but essentially a fantasy. A dying man on an alien world is given an alien organ to ingest by his semi-estranged ex-lover which turns him into a ghost. Most of the natives are kept in a sort of sociological stasis by their hierarchy of ghostly elders and none of those living or dead approve of humans. They also don’t approve of the few natives who reject the afterlife and live a hedonistic life. This community becomes the wedge for the human ghost to occupy himself with as he attempts to improve their lot. A lot of this struck me as pretty silly but the “bored god” vantage point and many related bits of food for thought were interesting.

In the other stories, “West of the Stars” is a sort of “Amish in space” story in which a woman discovers that her society’s foundations are just creation myths and that she’s been taken advantage of as well. Neither the interleaved fantasy sections nor the obfuscated SF sections worked well for me. “Painwise” borrows a title from James Tiptree, Jr. (1972) to talk about a plague of pain afflicting humanity because, while vaccinations are good, drugs are bayud, m’kay? The narrator is an unappealing broken man and every silver lining in this story, including the big fantasy twist, comes with a honking big black cloud. I couldn’t make “Face” the least bit science fictional no matter how I tried and, while it may be some kind of response or riff, it reads like a clone of Ballard’s “The Drowned Giant” (1964). A tiny little person tries to harvest godflesh from a fallen giant and gains a different perspective. It could mean anything or nothing, and may specifically focus on compassion but initially made me think of more cli-fi as well as the Doors song, “When the Music’s Over” (1967).

What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered
and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives
in the side of the dawn
and tied her with fences
and dragged her down.

I recommend the Doors song.


2 thoughts on “Review: Clarkesworld #149, February 2019

  1. I liked Reed’s story more than you did — thought it was one of his better ones, in fact.

    I didn’t think its theme had anything to be with drugs being bad. It more resembled a story of Michael Swanwick’s, ‘Wild Minds’, from a few years back wherein (essentially) the protagonist refuses to undergo a posthumanization treatment because with the beatific understanding he’ll then attain he’ll forgive himself for having killed his wife and he doesn’t want to do that.

    Similarly, in Reed’s story it seems like the protagonist doesn’t want to forgive himself — or his wife — for his being faithful to his wife and not having had the affair with his female friend, who then slit her wrists in the bath. When the wife got better and became posthuman, the female friend’s death and his own sacrifice were made pointless and absurd: that’s what he can’t get over at the story’s end.

    I think that’s what is going on, anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Mark. Thanks for commenting.

      I wasn’t saying that drugs/medicine was the theme (though it has thematic significance), but just an element of the plot (presumably triggered by our current antibiotic and opioid issues). That said, I didn’t see the near-infidelity being so central, either. I think it’s all more in the beginning and end with the fall. This man has been toughened (in both the good and bad sense) by adversity and isn’t willing to suffer more for any more “benefits.” How that’s read (is this a pro-“human as is” statement or a “strong tree snaps” motif or some weird mother/wife stuff or anything else) is debatable. Still, you may be right and I’m underplaying the suicide (another strong tree that snapped with no other trees as windbreaks).


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