Future Science Fiction Digest #1, December 2018

Sunday, 16 December 2018 10:11 Victoria Silverwolf

Future Science Fiction Digest #1, December 2018

"The Rule of Three" by Lawrence M. Schoen

"SisiMumu" by Walter Dinjos
"The Emperor of Death" by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
"One Bad Unit" by Steve Kopka
"The Substance of Ideas" by Clelia Farris
"In All Possible Futures" by Dantzel Cherry
"Perfection" by Mike Resnick
"Wordfall" by Liang Ling

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Editor Alex Shvartsman offers a new magazine with an international flavor. Future Science Fiction Digest, published in collaboration with the Chinese company Future Affairs Administration, features fiction newly translated into English from other languages, as well as original stories, nonfiction articles, and interviews with writers. The magazine appears quarterly. Its contents are available online at no charge, published intermittently during the three months between issues.

Readers may sample the newcomer by visiting future-sf.com. Although a preview issue, available free at the site, consists entirely of stories reprinted from other sources, it offers a taste of things to come. The site also features examples of cover art by Tomasz Maronski.

The magazine accepts submissions of fiction translated by the author, or by an authorized translator. It also accepts submissions from authors for whom English is not their primary language, and who live outside of countries where English is the most common tongue. (The first issue does not follow this policy.) The editor seeks science fiction stories (not fantasy or horror) up to ten thousand words in length, at a rate of ten cents per word. Articles and interviews pay one cent per word. Artists whose work is accepted receive two hundred dollars per image.

The premiere issue features stories from writers based on three continents.

"The Rule of Three" by Lawrence M. Schoen takes place in a remote village in China. An alien starship lands near the isolated community. The narrator learns about its arrival because he happens to be the grandson of one of the villagers, and the neighbor of his grandmother owns the only phone in the rural hamlet. He travels from the United States to China to investigate the extraterrestrial. The alien teaches him extraordinary powers. Unfortunately, it also announces that it must deal harshly with humanity's lack of connection with the sources of the things they use. The narrator uses his new skills to avoid catastrophe.

The author relates remarkable events in a realistic, matter-of-fact style. The portrait of life in a small Chinese town is convincing. The depiction of the alien is less so. It serves mostly as a symbol of the story's theme, that people should be closer to the origin of manufactured objects.

"SisiMumu" by Nigerian writer Walter Dinjos depicts a future Earth poisoned by radioactivity. Despite this disaster, the elite rulers of the planet live luxuriously, protecting their health with long-acting nanotechnology. They are even able to travel to the planets of other star systems. The lower class lives underground. Their survival depends on the short-acting nanotechnology they earn working for the upper class.

The narrator is a member of the lower class. His wife, now deceased, was one of the few so-called evolved, who are able to communicate directly with living things.

Hired by the elite as a crewmember on a starship, she died while investigating a gigantic alien tree that might hold the secret to healing Earth. Her husband joins another voyage to the deadly planet to discover the truth of her death.

This science fiction story often has the feeling of fantasy. It has imagination and strong emotional appeal, but sometimes lack plausibility. It seems unlikely, for example, that the tree would be the only lifeform on its native world.

"The Emperor of Death," translated from Russian by Julia Meitov Hersey, comes from married couple Marina & Sergey Dyachenko, Ukraine-born writers now living in the United States. A boy is born during the flight of a starship. One by one, the other passengers die from what seem to be natural causes. By the time the ship returns to Earth, he is alone. When he goes back to school, others die in similar ways. Fearful that more will succumb, authorities place him in complete isolation. An investigator arrives to interview the boy, and the strange reason for the deaths becomes known.

The authors create an eerie and mysterious mood. The weird way in which the boy acts as an agent of death is more mystical than logical. The reason for his strange transformation remains unexplained.

The narrator of "One Bad Unit" by Steve Kopka is a designer of nanotechnology. His work involves everything from fashion to security. He becomes romantically involved with a wealthy woman. She turns out to be a femme fatale, but the narrator has surprises of his own.

This tale of deceit and seduction reads like a high-tech crime story. The author adds a touch of comedy and satire to the suspense, which is sometimes appropriate and sometimes distracting. Readers looking for light, escapist entertainment will be pleased by the twists in the plot and the narrator's cynical wisecracks.

"The Substance of Ideas" by Clelia Farris, translated from Italian by Rachel Cordasco, takes place in a kibbutz on another planet. The inhabitants of this rural community trade their goods for money from those who live in a nearby city. Two children explore the wrecked starship that brought their ancestors to this world. The interior is flooded with water. Within this artificial lake, they find an alien organism. Consuming its eggs causes a state of ecstasy. They sell the eggs to the townsfolk. Unfortunately, the eggs are also addictive, leading to a crisis.

The author creates an exotic and imaginative setting. The plot is intriguing, with an open-ended climax that leaves the reader wondering. Some of the exposition is awkward, as one of the children makes up stories of how humanity wound up on the planet, and why the eggs have a euphoric effect.

The narrator of "In All Possible Futures" by Dantzel Cherry is a highly advanced form of artificial intelligence. It is able to perceive every potential event that might occur to its human owner in times to come. Its elderly owner is dying, and the AI imagines ways in which he might continue to exist, even considering the afterlives of traditional myths and religions. This brief tale has very little plot, but creates an effective mood.

"Perfection" by award-winning author Mike Resnick is a comedy about a vulgar, unattractive billionaire and his loyal android servant. The man tells the machine to find the perfect woman. Perfection, in this case, refers only to physical beauty. The android finds such a person, and she agrees to be the billionaire's woman in exchange for a life of luxury. When the man kicks the machine out of his home, it finds the perfect woman for itself.

The author creates an amusing fable about the true worth of a person. Some of its jokes are sophomoric. For example, a major female character has the silly first name Murgatroyd.

"Wordfall" by Liang Ling, translated from Chinese by Nathan Faries and Zhao Li, involves a starship forced to land on an icy world due to equipment failure. Stranded on the frozen planet for months, the crew discovers aliens who survive on rocks falling from the sky. A toy that translates the biological condition of a pet into simple sentences allows a limited form of communication with the aliens. The narrator's young daughter helps the crew learn the true nature of the mysterious rocks. They might help the starship escape, but only at great cost to the aliens. The solution to this dilemma brings the narrator closer to the child.

This is a pleasant tale of co-operation, with likable characters. Some of its scientific concepts are questionable. The way in which the aliens subsist on the rocks is hard to accept.

Victoria Silverwolf felt an earthquake recently.