edited by Juliana Rew
(Third Flatiron Publishing, pb, Summer 2015)
Reviewed by Cyd Athens
“This edition calls upon Presentism as a theme: the pitfalls of distraction, overstimulation, and other attention thieves—too much to do, too little time.”
Evan Henry leads off here with “Seventh Sense,” a story about a time in which tracking implants are mandatory, and people who want to disappear are dependent on an illicit drug, Solus. In this tale, we see what happens when a drug runner, Li Chen, lets his Solus lapse and is apprehended by two police officers, Detective Yu Zhang and his partner, Xiao. Of the three men, two of them have secrets. To say which two, or what the secrets are, would spoil the story. Though it is refreshing to see a non-Western culture, Shanghai, as the backdrop for the tale, the story itself is lukewarm. The drug runner is easily arrested, and the officers have no challenges whatsoever dealing with the suspect. The turn of events at the end seems to come out of nowhere.
Bacteria in Dave’s bowels are the stars of Robert Lowell Russell’s “Super Bugs.” Spontaneously gaining consciousness after Dave eats some mystery meat, the bugs become curious about the world around them. They develop a method to control Dave’s body and further their abilities to satisfy their curiosity about life, the universe, and everything. This tongue-in-cheek piece is a fun romp that leaves one wondering if they, too, might be susceptible to being taken over like Dave is. Recommended.
In “Aqua Equal” by Jonathan Shipley, Lucas Armbrewster is one of about fifty students who are the first to attend Zjhaccoese University on saurian world. The learners are part of a TerraGov pilot program. Arriving on the new world to an environment for which his TerraGov briefing did, as it turns out, little to prepare him, Luke not only makes outsider mistakes, but also an enemy of one of the other students who is in his program. The ending here is abrupt and gives the tale the feel of an introductory excerpt rather than a full story in its own right.
William, or Billy as he likes to be called, the main character in Evelyn Deshane’s “Carnival of Colours,” has synaesthesia. For him, this means that he sees names as colors. During a blind date, he sees a television news report where aliens who had come to Earth some years before, are abducting Terrans. The names of the people being abducted all appear to him as primary colors. From this, Billy deduces that there is a method to the aliens’ madness. An interesting take on the theme of synaesthesia.
“The Eyes in the Water” by Matt Weinburg is a somewhat convoluted story about a man and his uncle, the creator of a Universal Symphony Machine. It is more firmly grounded in stories of the weird than it is thematic for this issue.
Jillian’s mother has died. In this era, it’s possible to upload the deceased’s consciousness into a mechanical box. Wendy Nikel gives us a couple of glimpses of “Life After Download” before Jillian must make her decision about what to do in her mother’s case. While the slices are interesting in their imperfection, there’s just not much to care about here.
Another story about virtual consciousness, “Just Visulate” by E. E. King, covers the topic of noncorporeal romance. The outcome might leave one wondering if virtual reality is all that it’s cracked up to be.
Elliotte Rusty Harold’s title, “Email Recovered from Genetech Debris, Lieutenant Jeffrey Abramowitz Investigating,” tells us that this is to be an epistolary tale. In the titular missive, Jonathan Collins, Senior Partner, Genetech Investing Group responds to an inventor, Efraim Demetrios Xyyzzx, who has created Homo ursa, a human-grizzly hybrid intended to be used as a biological pacification organism. That there is an investigation underway suggests that the situation didn’t go as well as one might hope. Though this is an interesting and humorous story, it is difficult to see how it ties into the issue’s theme.
“Killing the Tree Spirit” by Adria Laycraft concerns the death and rebirth of the Green Man. It’s a simple story with a few surprises.
“A House of Mirrors” by Stephanie Flood is self-described as “[a] metafictional story about getting lost in illusion.” The description is accurate; the second person point of view is an interesting choice; and, the story speaks to “pitfalls of distraction.”
When Missy’s father decides that it’s time for his family to unplug from the virtual world and live in a real one, we get “She Dies” by Jason Lairamore. After the twelve-year-old Missy and her nine-year-old brother Jeff arrive on the new alien world, they go out to play and encounter new monsters—real ones, unlike those in the virtual video games they used to play. That changes everything. This is a predictable story. The unfortunate thing about this one, though, has nothing to do with the story itself, and everything to do with the accompanying, and misleading, art work which features two males, one holding the other at gunpoint. Missy, who is described as wearing a flower dress, is the main character here and the only thing she holds at gunpoint is a monster.
“Jacked” by Steve Coate brings to mind Philip K. Dick’s short story, “Paycheck.” Fergus McKay comes to in shackles in a monitored room. He is visited by his employer, who tells him that he has been fired for committing a crime. The company human resources person assures Fergus that everything is being done by the book. The corporate attorney concurs. However, none of them will tell Fergus what second degree thought crime he committed while in a jacked-in state. This story ends just as it’s getting interesting, which makes it the feel like an excerpt of a longer work.
Paul Barclay’s “Into the Light” shows us Adelaide, a scientist who has been working on a machine which allows consciousness to transcend the human body. The initial impetus for her work is to allow one Dr. Hughes, who is in a burn ward, to virtually attend his daughter’s dance recital. A reporter who attends the scientific reveal for the express purpose of interviewing Adelaide, takes notes of, and later writes and article about, the proceedings. This story makes one ponder what it means to be “present.”
Some of the stories here seem to stray from the issue’s challenging theme of presentism. Separated from the theme, however, this anthology contains several good reads.
Cyd Athens indulges a speculative fiction addiction from 45ø 29 30.65 N, 122ø 35 30.91 W. Comments on Cyd’s reviews are welcome at www.cydathens.net.
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