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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Clarkesworld #112, January 2016

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Clarkesworld #112, January 2016

The Algorithms of Value” by Robert Reed

The Abduction of Europa” by E. Catherine Tobler
Extraction Request” by Rich Larson
Everybody Loves Charles” by Bao Shu
(first published in Chinese in 2014, this is its first English translation)

Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett

This 112th issue of Clarkesworld contains four diverse stories. The eclectic mix made for an enjoyable read.

The Algorithms of Value” by Robert Reed

A science fiction story set in the far future when AI’s and people live together in a harmony few have predicted. Humanity has avoided the feared AI singularity by the creation of the algorithms of value. The story doesn’t reveal what these algorithms are, except that they took decades to formulate. Now everyone lives in their own AI controlled room that can fulfill their needs for as long as they live.

The story’s 200-year-old protagonist, Parchment, is one of the last members of the group who discovered the algorithms; she is rich, famous, revered by those around her and enjoys her prestige. When Parchment sees a boy beggar, named Ink, who seems indifferent to her position, she’s dismissive at first but soon feels enticed and intrigued by the challenge of his strange behavior and brings him into her life, revealing the human need for some uncertainty in our lives. Robert Reed raises several unique views of the future, but I felt the story moved too slowly. It was a pace consistent with the peacefulness of this future vision.

The Abduction of Europa” by E. Catherine Tobler

Mankind is exploring Jupiter’s moon Europa in this science fiction mystery, it has had to find a way to survive on this cold and hostile place as it searches for life in its salty oceans under the ice. This is the story of three deep space explorers, Bolaji, Kotto, and Marius caught out on the ice after Marius flees from their research station seemingly insane. Bolaji heads out to get his friend back, and Kotto goes out on foot to rescue them both. Marius is lost but Kotto finds Bolaji and helps him return slowly back to the station.

The walk back doesn’t go well as the ancient life of Europa begins to exert a powerful influence on the two survivors. Written from the three perspectives, the author handles the changing POV well, giving the story several intriguing perspectives that heighten the mystery and pull the reader on to the story’s conclusion. I enjoyed the read as it reminded me of some of the wonderful old science fiction I enjoyed many years ago.

Extraction Request” by Rich Larson

A blend of horror and science fiction, we are invited to follow the fates of a recon patrol shot down in a remote swampy area on a faraway planet. Each of the patrol members have their own skeletons to hide, but now they must work together against an alien presence beyond human understanding–an alien presence that has already cleared the swamp of all life.

The story builds to a rapid pace that grabs and holds as the patrol tries to survive; the team watches as its members go down to be integrated into the alien life and then return. Soon the only question is: Will any of them live long enough to be extracted? A nice read and well worth the effort of getting through the slower start.

Everybody Loves Charles” by Bao Shu

Shu has given us a science fiction novella about a future where people can live their lives vicariously by linking to the senses of others. We meet Charles, an American aviator, writer, and playboy who shares his life with millions of devoted followers for free. In addition, we meet Naoto, a Japanese programmer who works only to pay for the link to Charles’ sensory perceptions, spending eight hours a day feeling everything that Charles experiences.

All is not so simple for the two protagonists as they come face to face with the unexpected realities and consequences of their choices when Charles meets his soul mate. The story allows us to empathize with the POV’s as they each face their challenges; the many twists make it hard to put this story down before the end. “Everybody Loves Charles” raises many thought provoking ideas and I enjoyed the read; I will have to keep an eye out for more translations of Bao Shu’s work.