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Well, here's a refreshing and surprising change - not only is Critical Mass by Peter Watts not in itself a dystopian story (although it's set in a world with pandemics, and the climate going to pieces - no idea where he might get ideas like that from), but it also has what I consider a rather positive and upbeat ending.

Plus - the main protagonist is a fading artist, and his struggles with his gradual loss of relevance -  never mind the fact that someone is on the warpath and trashing his pieces out in the world - is again an interesting departure from the author's more usual soldier/scientist/outcast templates.

 

Published in the July 22 issue of Lightspeed Magazine - see link below to read the story, or listen to it.

The art piece on the right is by the Israeli artist Eli Shukry, and only associated with the story in my mind.

Links: Peter Watts - Critical Mass - Lightspeed Magazine - Eli Shukry

 

 

In January 2020 Clarkesworld Magazine published a story by Isabel Fall (a new writer, writing under a pseudonym) named I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter.

In my eyes it's a clever and well-executed piece of near-future fiction, set in a oddly broken US, where the military have shaped and used sexual identity to forge a closer bond between the weapon and its pilot - so much in the vein of a Peter Watts story that some people assumed it was actually written by him (no, it was not).

But it clearly also takes up the anti-trans meme in the title, and re-claims it for the trans community (Isabel Fall herself is trans). But somewhere between the unknown, anonymous author, the provocative title, and the modern-day tendency to be outraged just in case and on behalf this led to a shitstorm of abuse that ended in Fall asking Clarkesworld to take down the story, and check herself into a clinic due to suicidal ideation given the attacks on her.

So far so good (the story) and so bad (the unwarranted over-reaction to it). The story was, under the shortened moniker Helicopter Story, nominated for a Hugo Award in 2021 (it didn't win it), but is still only available on the Archive (the Wayback Machine has purges it's copy) and on private uploads. The space it took up on the Clarkesworld page is taken up by a statement by Neil Clarke, the editor. This is worth a read, too.

If you haven't read it then I would, now you know the above, invite you to read it yourself, links are below. And, both in this case as well as in general - please be respectful with other human beings, even if you disagree with them. Things are frequently more complex than they seem at first glance.

Link: Clarkesworld - Statement Neil Clarke - Story on Archive - Story on LinkedIn Upload

 

Elana Gomel - Where the Streets Have No NameElana Gomel came to my attention first with her magnificent story Going East in Rachel Swirsky & Sean Wallace 's collection People Of The Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy.

She has since published 3 novels, a collection, and loads of short fiction - expect a few pointers to short stories to come your way here, or maybe even a full review as and when I get to do one!

Here's Where the Streets Have No Name - a story, based on a quite standard trope, but with a rather unusual, claustrophobic treatment as we follow the crew of a commercial start-up desperately trying to make contact with the inhabitants of Gliese 512, who have roundly ignored their presence so far. But, as you could have guessed, there is more to this than meets the eye (and remote drones deployed), of course.

Read it all at the link below - the image on the right is by the digital artist Alex Andreev, and is not connected to the story except in my head. Go check out his site, I think his work rather impressive!

Links: Elana Gomel - Where the Streets Have No Name - People Of The Book - Alex Andreev

 

Here's a recommendation from our friends over at the Translated SF Wiki (you should check them out if you have an interest in non-UK/US SF!) 

Anton Stark's short story Silkstrand, A Minute Of is a fascinating little fragment, set in Chinese-style high culture, and following one of the characters responsible for maintaining the universal clock that keeps the Empire ticking, and time flowing correctly. But who, by chance, finds out that - no, I'm not telling. Go read it, it's short, it's clever, and it's charming. 

The story was published, both as text and as a Podcast on Cast of Wonders - links below.

The picture on the right is a wooden Triangle Mandala - it felt somewhat appropriate given the subject matter!

 

Links: Silkstrand, A Minute Of - Cast of Wonders - Anton Stark - Translated SF

 

It's been quiet here, I know. The tumbleweed has come, and buggered off again.

Me, I had COVID in early spring. Not too bad, as illnesses go, in my case. But it knocked me sideways, in some way. Between long COVID, work stress (I work in healthcare), and the general political clusterfuck on both sides of the Atlantic I have been left in a state, where I have not read a book, never mind written about one, in 9 months now. 

I have, fresh of the press, Neal Asher's Lockdown Tales sitting in front of me. Maybe some topical short stories from a writer I really enjoy will help me get back in the saddle? Here's to hope...

Meanwhile, I'd like to point you to two efforts that came out of the COVID disruption and lockdowns, both entitled Decameron, for reasons all too transparent.

First out of the gate, simply because I host it, is this collection by friends, acquaintances, and others struggling to make sense of this new world order: Decameron: Storytelling in the Time of the Pandemic

And secondly, in a much bigger, much more professional, and in large part financially driven (half/half to the authors and a charitable organisation) way, the Jo Walton-curated New Decameron (you need to be a Patron to read most of it. Best spent 1$ of your life I reckon).

But, especially, Peter Watts' contribution, The Last of the Redmond Billionaires

Look after yourself. Be kind, to yourself and others. Be safe. Together we've got this.

 

 

Ian Sales – Adrift on the Sea of Rains

 

Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me

 

Somtow Sucharitkul - The Throne of Madness

 

Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner

 

Somtow Sucharitul – Starship & Haiku

 

Lavie Tidhar - Central Station

 

Iain Sinclair - Radon Daughters

 

Ken MacLeod - Cosmonaut Keep


Andy Weir - The Martian

 

Aliette de Bodard – In the Vanishers’ Palace

 

Liz Williams - Empire of Bones

 

S.P. Somtow – I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City

 

Doris Lessing - Shikasta

 

Doris Lessing – The Sirian Experiments

 

Peter Watts – Maelstrom

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