Tangent Online

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Clarkesworld #122, November 2016

E-mail Print

Clarkesworld #122, November 2016

"What the Stories Steal" by Nin Harris

"Where Water Joins" by Nelly Geraldine Garcia-Rosas
"Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart" by Samantha Murray
"Follow the White Line" by Bo Balder
"Western Heaven" by Chen Hongyu (translated by Andy Dudak)
"Afrofuturist 419" by Nnedi Okorafor

Reviewed by Nicky Magas

Ipsita has had her husband stolen from her, again, in "What the Stories Steal" by Nin Harris. She could carry on as usual when she lost his heart, but after he lost his mind and left her alone in a cabin on an icy world, she looks for anyway she can to bring him back. Searching through the archives of his cultural ancestry leads her to the houseguest, an entity Hans claimed had always been with his family. If there's anything that can bring her husband back, Ipsita knows it must be the houseguest.

Cold and haunting, the loneliness is tangible in "What the Stories Steal." Heavy with history and cultural backstory, the plot is relatively light and easy to skip over. Ipsita alternates between dutiful wife and exotic seductress throughout the story, giving readers a bit of a confused impression of her. The houseguest is perhaps the most interesting character of the story, both in command and naive, self-aware and self-conscious. There is a sense of unresolvedness to the ending, as if the goal at the beginning shifts at the conclusion. I'm not really sure if any of the characters have achieved anything except the sense of accomplishment, which for them is enough to get them through another cold winter night.

In "Where Water Joins" by Nelly Geraldine Garcia-Rosas, Iris has been seeing Marina everywhere. It could just be a faulty memory upload that causes the dreams, the hallucinations, but after even a reboot doesn't stop the visions from coming, Iris goes searching on her own. Unfortunately, she might not like what she finds.

Half told in the language of computers, it's hard to find footing in this story. It may take two or even three reads to understand it completely. It's possible that the sense of loss and confusion is built into the narrative through the delivery, however, as Iris seems as confounded as the reader by what is going on in her life. This relatively short story has some beautiful imagery however, in the way it meshes machine with flesh, which does request careful consideration from the reader.

Children grow up so fast. In the blink of an eye it seems. And in Samantha Murray's "Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart," they grow up literally before your eyes. There's not much to do but savor ever second of childhood before it's gone. Before the harsh realities and responsibilities of the world snatch them away from you—possibly forever.

Told in tiny vignettes covering only a year's time, "Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart" is both loving and sorrowful. The world is given to readers between the lines, subtle, untold, and omnipresent. The second person point of view is at first jarring for such personal subject matter, but it's easy to fall into after a while, as the story pulls readers deeper in. The final line is chilling with possibilities, leaving the reader wanting more, but perhaps too afraid to ask.

In "Follow the White Line" by Bo Balder, Paddy is seeing strange things, things that no one else on the generational ship Green seems to see. Animals that neither she, nor possibly anyone else has ever seen before, and glimpses of a centuries-old atrocity she has no knowledge of. None of this is showing up on the surveillance recordings, or on any of the photos she has tried to take. It can only mean one thing: the ship is trying to communicate something to her. The deeper Paddy goes to try and uncover what that is, the uglier the situation aboard Green becomes.

"Follow the White Line" is a long, very linear story that picks up and discards plot points along the way. Paddy comes to many conclusions in the story that seem a little too on-the-nose for the character as she is presented. The connection between the ship, the captain, and Paddy is so stretched through half-exposed rationale that it's difficult for the reader to suspend disbelief of the plot as Paddy obviously experiences it. The setting is the shining star of the story, with its vivid, nearly tangible details that put the reader right next to Paddy on the journey to self-discovery.

On a long abandoned, dead Earth, hundreds, if not thousands of robots mindlessly perform the tasks they were programmed to do. Chen Hongyu's "Western Heaven" opens with electronic artist bot Wu Kong in an existential crisis. With his hard drive full of the entire human history of art and no one around with the processing power to understand or appreciate it, Wu Kong longs to find where the humans have gone and, if possible, become human himself. After gathering a group of companions, Wu Kong sets off on an epic journey across the stars in search of some purpose for all of them.

This futuristic, robotic version of Journey to the West perfectly captures what it is to be human in the most surprising way. Overtly, the story tells its readers that the purpose of life is survival, but art, we are told between the lines, is what makes us human. Through the innocent and at times naive eyes of the company of robots we get a look at our own souls beneath the shell of primal survival, and what readers see there is both beautiful and terrifying.

In "Afrofuturist 419" by Nnedi Okorafor, a 419 scam that has gone viral turns out to have a seed of truth in it. Abacha Tunde really is stuck up in space, although the bit about the enormous sum of money and a bank transfer are most certainly suspect. The good news is that a rescue mission might finally be underway to bring Abacha home. The bad news is that it might already be too late.

A short story that gets right to the point, "Afrofuturist 419" exposes society's views on the expendability of black lives within the easily dismissed framework of a Nigerian prince scam. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek in its delivery, its serious undertones are highlighted at the end of the story which leaves Abacha in an undisclosed limbo of danger that the reader neither fully realizes nor can begin to comprehend. Only Abacha can speak of his own experiences while the ears on Earth remain, for the most part, turned away.