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

Sci Phi Journal #22, February 2017

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Special Double Review

by

Valerie A. Lindsey & Adrian McCauley

 

Sci Phi Journal #22, February 2017

Bread and Salt” by Mark Silcox

Platinum Blonde” by A.A. Leil
Hoplite” by Patrick S. Baker
Kitsune” by David Hallquist
Femi-bot Frontier” by Chris Phillips

Reviewed by Valerie A. Lindsey

Bread and Salt” by Mark Silcox tells of a couple who have hibernated through much of their adult lives, awakening every eight years to host a dinner party with visiting industrialists and artists. Their needs are looked after by computers and they have no interest in interacting with those around them. All has been fine for over 200 years until they awaken late to find their world gone. For the first time, they are forced to interact with a local and given the opportunity to change their life. The choice they make says more about those who don’t really have to work for what they are given than hospitality obligations as commented in the “Food for Thought” afterword to the story. The story wasn’t unique and I found the dialogue of the local representative awkward and distracting.

A.A. Leil’s “Platinum Blonde” takes us into the mind of Adam, a religious fanatic who thinks he knows God’s will, as drummed into him by his father. The story explores how a religious follower can distort or misinterpret the precepts of religion. Adam tries to use modern technology to interface with a weapon to mete out his own justice, but finds the weapon is controlled by another with different beliefs and their own form of justice.

In “Hoplite” by Patrick S. Baker, Hoplite is a tunneling war fighting space ship that was once human and space jumps to check on the recently colonized planet Asgard. The crew finds that every city has been attacked and can find no signs of life. They send Marine teams down to investigate. What they find is gruesome and troubling. Before they can leave, they are attacked by their new, unknown enemy. The crew fights valiantly as Hoplite monitors all actions and provides guidance throughout a desperate battle. In the end, Hoplite provides a final opportunity and demonstration of courage.

David Hallquist’s “Kitsune” is a superior story. It is not long, but very well written with a powerful message for today’s obsession and increasing reliance on technology. Ai is a universal artificial intelligence that is able to analyze and utilize individual information on countless individuals to provide each what they most want. This is a well drawn cautionary tale demonstrating the risks of an individual increasingly losing him or herself in a personal fantasy and shunning reality.

Fermi-Bot Frontier” by Chris Phillips pulled me in immediately. Fermi-bots are tinier than nano-bots and used to make repairs to the space vehicle that is finally transporting Curt and the rest of the staff back to Earth. Curt’s days are busy making repairs to ensure their craft operates smoothly. He’s surrounded by other space travelers, but seems unconnected to them. Curt’s only meaningful communication is with a long-distance friend who no longer exists…or does she? The exceptionally long space exploration begins to blur the distinction between reality and what Curt imagines seeing and hearing. Confused, Curt stumbles into a new reality.


Sci Phi Journal #22, February 2017

Bread and Salt” by Mark Silcox

Platinum Blonde” by A.A. Leil
Hoplite” by Patrick S. Baker
Kitsune” by David Hallquist
Fermi-bot Frontier” by Chris Phillips

Reviewed by Adrian McCauley

Claire and Klaus are brought out of cryostasis to receive and entertain a group of traders but discover that more time has passed than expected, and that things have not been running smoothly during their absence. Mark Silcox looks at the distinction between being a consumer and being the product, while making it clear, but not preachy, a message about the consequences of unregulated trade. A thought provoking introduction to the February issue, “Bread and Salt” is an easy and enjoyable read.

Platinum Blonde” is a clever tale that crosses the line of faith and explores fanaticism, and how it might interact with technology in the future. Through a complex protagonist, A. A. Leil paints a character that is neither good nor evil, and asks the reader to define those concepts for themselves. The main character is faced with questions about his religion and his actions, while the reader is faced with the moral dilemma: is violence an acceptable or redeemable way to deal with violence?

Patrick S. Baker's “Hoplite” is an example of military science fiction at it's finest. A war veteran, his insider knowledge and experience shines through in the depth and realism of the battle sequences and the technical and military lexicon. Often it is the little details that can make or break a scene, and Baker breaks none. The story is narrated by the ship's AI, Hoplite, an Assault Carrier that has entered a system and found the human settlements destroyed by an unknown enemy. “Hoplite” questions the ideas and notions around bravery, making the readers ask themselves who decides what bravery is, and how does one recognize it?

David Hallquist's “Kitsune” is a brief tale of under 800 words, exploring the idea of a virtual world where, much like today's free sites and servers, the user is itself the product. Similar in theme to The Matrix, the story begs the question, “What is real?” Like a slowly spinning coin, halfway through the story it suddenly flips and you look at the other side for a brief moment, and the coin returns, full circle. It is an unsettling scene but defines the story. Hallquist nails the idea that clarity can be nothing more than the smallest moment, lost in time.

Maintenance engineer on a deep space vessel, Curt finds his mind beginning to unravel in the isolation. This is the setting in “Fermi-Bot Frontier.” Chris Phillips writes a poignant tale that probes the boundaries of reality and sanity and is a masterful tale of suspense. It is cleverly written with only the barest exposition, resulting in a story that feels as isolated and internalized as our main character.

Overall I found Sci Phi Journal to be enjoyable, but not as profound as I might have hoped. The stories were well written, and there was a good variety of themes presented in a variety of styles. This was my first experience with the magazine, and I can safely say I will be returning to it, eager to see what comes next.