- “Irregularity” by Rachel Harrison (science fiction novelette~)
- “We Are New(s)” by Bentley A. Reese (science fiction short story)
- “A Priest of Vast and Distant Places” by Cassandra Khaw (fantasy short story)
Again I have to apologize for not making this review shorter, which is especially ironic with this issue where the shorter, the better.
In the recent past of “Irregularity,” aliens have invaded the system and been repulsed, Because “it was decided that computers on their own couldn’t keep humanity safe,” space stations have been manned by a crew of two who work seven days a week, twelve hours a day, jacked into a machine, monitoring the stars. The protagonist spends a lot of time thinking about his estranged girlfriend, suffers a blast of what he thinks is feedback, starts bleeding and going crazy, and things only get worse for the brief remainder of the story.
Long review, short: The actual “I’m a lonely person having a miserable time here in this terrible place doing this awful job” is apparently the main intent and is effectively conveyed. It’s just that, to me, the structure it rests on is unbelievable and the person going through it is unappealing.
Long: This “novelette” (labeled “7500 words” and in the adjustment range, though I get 7440 words) initially made me think of, and is very much like, one of George R. R. Martin’s less successful early stories, “The Second Kind of Loneliness” though it later made me think of the less appealing parts of Moon but, really, is like any number of “madness on a space station” stories. The reason it made me think of “Loneliness” goes beyond that to its implausibly contrived nature. Rather than reprogram our AIs we make humans do work AIs are much better suited for? Work of 84 hour weeks? Giving top security clearance to the deceitful protagonist who was washed out of pilot training for his lies? Giving the crew the power to impair and shut down the system’s defenses? The narrative contains some attempted explanations, one quoted in the synopsis and another which mentions that it’s cheap (which is why we don’t spend billions on defense) but they don’t work for me. Other than deceitfulness, self-pity, living in the past, and having a “pliable” brain (which is enough to make him unappealing) the protagonist isn’t characterized much but more than his girlfriend who is nothing but a rich, entitled cypher, while his coworker is just a name. Speaking of names, his is Nyle Crane. Not everyone knows Frasier, perhaps especially not those in the UK, but a large percentage of readers will be unable to get “Niles Crane” out of their heads. Also, its written in an obtrusive present tense for no discernible reason which (along with the close third-person) makes the ending (which would be dissatisfying under any circumstances) even more problematic. Those are some of the things that bothered me but may not bother you. If not and you are one of many who enjoy dark, paranoid, space station stories, you may enjoy this.
Of the two quite short pieces, the SF one, “We Are New(s),” is “A Clockwork Orange: 2092” when London comes a-walkin’ and 11,219 eyes observe a street boy and a “posh gurl” meeting. A thoroughly dystopian, misanthropic (or mis-something, anyway) piece about the media making us do it, about “interest.” A little long and a lot unappealing to me (and present tense, again) but effective enough. Very similar to, though scuzzier than, Rich Larson’s “Razzibot” in this month’s Analog. The fantasy, “A Priest of Vast and Distant Places,” completes the present tense trifecta, and puts a second-person cherry on top. That said, this is an odd tale in which you are a priest of the plane who, in psychic conversation with it, basically asks, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own home?” as a good sky pilot should. This is not plainly written, of course, but not overwritten, and is hardly sunny, but not terribly dark. A fairly interesting (if static) story that may have its fans.