Tangent Online

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

Clarkesworld #134, November 2017

E-mail Print

Clarkesworld #134, November 2017

Prasetyo Plastics” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

Retrieval” by Suzanne Walker
Dead Heroes” by Mike Buckley
Who Won the Battle of Arisa Mons?” by Sue Burke
The Catalog of Virgins” by Nicoletta Vallorani

Reviewed by Rebecca DeVendra

Prasetyo Plastics” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires is about Ali, who sees and understands plastic. He excels at mold competitions, architecture, and snap-on challenges. Spire’s prose is very beautiful and ripe for reflection: “Plastic was already overtaking all. Just as the world’s oceans were engulfed in plastic—where a knife slit in a dead bird’s body would reveal an autopsy of the polymer, just as even plankton consumed the micro-plastics—3-D printers started phasing in.” The story follows the progression of plastic development until it starts to overwhelm Earth, eventually becoming one with organic life forms. A symbiotic relationship forms! Ali discovers the threat these new life forms pose to humanity. The story is well-paced and fascinating with a twist on the singularity that is thoughtful and terrifying.

Retrieval” by Suzanne Walker starts with a woman named Riva in a graveyard behind a spaceport. She prays to the gods below ground that shelter their beloved dead. She works as a “Retriever,” one who collects the souls of the dead in space. She practices her religion despite the fact that it’s frowned on in her line of work. The story focuses on a confrontation with her ghost father, who almost kills her. The story is tense, intriguing, and expertly crafted.

Dead Heroes” by Mike Buckley follows people trapped in a “Living Forest” that eats away their memories, reducing some people to a brain-dead existence. The forest has overtaken Earth and the protagonists are stuck in a stadium inhabited by moving statues they call “soldiers.” Buckley’s writing is evocative and unnerving: concepts like “The Blank” seem familiar for some reason, and the description of the robot’s mecha that animates the soldiers is simple and startling. This one has the power to resonate and disturb.

Who Won the Battle of Arisa Mons?” by Sue Burke is about a robot battle on Mars. Gamer nerds gone rogue: they ship robots up to Mars to launch a Mars Robot Melee game. The story follows the scientists as they become celebrities, detailing the news cycle of such an event right down to the nitty-gritty engineering details of the melee robots. It’s an entertaining tale that will make the reader smile at the end.

The Catalogue of Virgins” by Nicoletta Vallorani is a grim twist on a common fairy-tale theme: women are married to a monster and trapped in his castle. The protagonist, now the latest wife, must escape. She hears the voices of the ghosts of her predecessors. The concept isn’t quite fresh enough to excite, but the narrative style is very eerie and poetic. Some readers may find that disorienting, but it should be acknowledged that the prose just reflects the protagonist’s addled state of mind.


Rebecca DeVendra is a figure artist and speculative fiction writer living in Boston. Her fiction can be found at Starship Sofa. She's also a mom to three cacophonous, early-rising children. She's probably in her pajamas, but she has an emergency collar shirt for video calls. Check out her blog.