“Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Uncanny #18 September/October 2017, science fiction short story
Computron is a sentient robot who was created in 1954 in this alternate history story. Years later, he is part of a museum and sometimes answers questions from the audience to demonstrate his sentience. When one questioner asks him if he’s familiar with an anime called Hyperdimension Warp Record which features a robot similar to him, he admits he is not but, later that night, checks it out. The story discusses his entry into the world of anime and fanfic along with his collaboration with a human fanfic writer.
This is a very different story from “A Series of Steaks” from the same author, which I recommended earlier this year, but shares the same sparkling wit. There seems to be an ambiguity in the title where it’s a primer for robots on how to get into fandom but is also speaking of people’s appreciation of robots. There are in-references such as Computron’s being part of the Simak Museum (and perhaps even the Ellison and Williamson references aren’t coincidental) though, oddly, there’s no Asimov reference. The robot is characterized in an amusing way, describing how he can’t possibly be frustrated by it not being time for the show to air, yet constantly checking the time all the same. The descriptions of the quality of much of the fanfic and the chat between a couple of fans were especially funny.
I’m not sure how to interpret the story’s core, though. It obviously deals with “futures past” and how that which seems futuristic at one time becomes dated at another. It also has a elegiac feel when describing how few people seem to care about the old robots and how low-priority the information on them is. But it seems to be a celebration of those images and concepts and perhaps a call to embrace them and continue to reinvent them. There are a couple of contrary notes in the Hexode destruction incident and maybe a subtheme that humans are best suited to write humans while robots are best suited to write robots. Be that as it may, this story entertained me, evoked sympathy for the character(s), and was engagingly written. My only non-thematic quibble was that “bjornruffian” seemed to accept Computron (with the nick/screen name “RobotFan”) as human too easily and thoroughly (Computron’s not unknown and it and the museum would be easily researched, even aside from RobotFan’s remarkable commitment to its robot “role” as “RobotFan”). All in all, another good tale from a likely rising star.
“Penelope Waits” by Dennis Danvers, Apex #101 October 2017, science fiction short story
The first-person narrator is a twenty-six-year-old student who’s taking her classes just to get a better job, though she likes the dogs she washes now. She’s obviously someone whose potential exceeds her environment and experiences. When her insufficient boyfriend claims he’s been abducted by aliens, she doesn’t buy it but then she meets them herself and the grass suddenly looks a lot greener.
In a sense, this is all character and voice, as the narrator is almost the whole of the story and its greatest success. Aside from her, the story’s room is almost bare, having only the science fictional furniture of alien contact, like a fairly worn easy chair. However, the aliens do manage a bit of distinction and the Greek lit references are fun. I think the narrator will entertain many and her plight will speak directly to some.
“A Siren Song for Two” by Steven Fischer, Flash Fiction Online, October 2017, science fiction short story
This is the first of two recommendations from the odd (and oddly effective) Valloween issue of Flash Fiction Online in which darkness and relationships are combined.
Some workers are off on a planet of ice where the melting and refreezing of the ice causes a vibratory effect like a siren song which causes people to wander off and die in the unforgiving climate. When a woman succumbs to the lure, her beloved goes out after her.
This works on a metaphorical level more than a literal one but it evokes a vivid environment with effective emotional desires – the sonic singing iceworld is striking and the feelings that the woman has for the sounds, and that the protagonist has for the woman, are plausible enough and powerful. I honestly can’t decide whether to recommend this or just give it an honorable mention and I usually err on the side of strictness but I just feel like pointing this one out.
Reviewed what is ordinarily a very interesting webzine in which I’ve always found something of special interest (and sometimes several things of great interest) but this issue was unfortunately atypical.
Review of Compelling Science Fiction #9, October/November 2017
Review of Infinity Wars, edited by Jonathan Strahan
- “In Everlasting Wisdom” by Aliette de Bodard (SF short story *)
- “Command and Control” by David D. Levine (SF short story *)
- “Heavies” by Rich Larson (SF short story)
- “Weather Girl” by E. J. Swift (SF novelette *)
- “ZeroS” by Peter Watts (SF novelette)
“Little /^^^\&-” by Eric Schwitzgebel, Clarkesworld #132 September 2017, SF short story
The title refers to the perhaps central protagonist of this tale. That protagonist has been exiled from her community of galactic sentiences because, being young and headstrong, she disagrees with the plan to turn the galaxy into a black hole. (Arthur Dent had similar, if smaller, problems.) So she’s herded out to the ass end of the galaxy and chained to an insignificant star where she notices some monkeys on the third rocky thing orbiting it and, after amusing herself by pocketing the rock’s moon, there follows a very strange tale, from dizzying heights, of her monkey contact and its galactic and greater-than-galactic consequences.
This is a story where the heresy of paraphrase really applies. Everything about the synopsis is true enough in its way but really does nothing to convey the casual scale and calm frenzy of this tale or the way it dives into part of the core of SF and makes it new. (This includes the idea that the vast universe contains a tiny lump of gray matter which contains that universe, as well as the one expressed by this great line (don’t click it until you’ve read the story).) Granted, the names of the characters may seem off-putting and/or gimmicky but they do at least serve to emphasize the remoteness of the beings. Basically, this story makes your head bigger and your mood lighter and the author entertains like a magician with something of substance up his sleeve.
I wasn’t expecting to do this but I’ve reviewed what is now last month’s Lightspeed for Tangent.
Review of Lightspeed #87, August 2017
(As mentioned in the Summation, “Ink” was an honorable mention.)