Also, this review appeared on my Patreon page ten days before appearing here. Become a patron and you’ll not only help boost me and my POOR POOR SUFFERING CHILDREN toward the poverty line and, hopefully soonish, actually over it, but you’ll get to see a lot of posts way early, plus occasional exclusive posts, and you can even get free ebooks when I publish (and you get those a whole MONTH before the rest of the world! But now, the review:
Containment is an artificial intelligence in a Solar System wide civilization story. It’s also a know thyself story. And a coming of age story in a strange sort of way, and a finding your purpose in life story. Maybe a work-life balance story. And…
…there’s a lot to unpack in this one. The last paragraph makes it sound like the story is a massive chaotic mashup and it definitely is not.
It’s an elegant story. It progresses smoothly. It bears you along like an inevitable word-river. The imagery is not literary or flashy but in this story it should not be. The real beauty and intrigue is elsewhere and too much flash in the outside world would only be a distraction. In this story the author is too smart to distract you.
As I read, I felt echoes of the technological hard science fiction of the masters of the 1950s and 60s, yet it was undeniably modern and accessible. That impressed me and brought out happy memories of myself as a child in the ’70s and a teen in the ’80s immersed in 10 and 20 and 30 year old books and loving them.
There’s an element of mystery in this story, and the eventual revelation of the purpose of the little tower of rocks discovered in the beginning by the Mining Master of Thebe, one of Jupiter’s smaller moons, is natural and smoothly handled, as are the little hints along the way.
Much of the story takes place in the inner world and reasoning of the Mining Master, who is an artificial intelligence (and whose interchangeable purpose-made bodies are an interesting, useful, and story-vital feature). We spend a lot of time in their head before and after the stealthy and subversive upgrade the Master gives himself without permission from his superiors.
While internal impressions and monologue can be boring, it is not here. I found myself fascinated. The protagonist’s inner life is at turns logical and soulful, robotic and humanistic as they cycle from full sentience to blunted sentience to full sentience again and then to something more, something undeniably human.
It’s a what makes us human story, too. And a what could make AI human story. A type of story that has been done many, many times before, but in this incarnation made me stay up reading so late it became early and the birds singing in the dawn made it difficult to fall asleep. Damn your wily storytelling, Susan Kaye Quinn!
This is the first time I’ve reviewed a short story here. I’m pretty sure, anyway. At the very least, it’s the first time I’ve done it with the intention of doing them as a regular feature of my blog-slash-authorpage. (Note: this first appeared on my Patreon page 8 days ago — become a patron and see blog posts a week-plus early, even if you pledge just ONE dollar.
So, before I begin, some notes.
I think I’ll always lead with a spoiler warning, just in case. Like this: there may be spoilers in here, because 99% of the time I just don’t care about spoilers.
And that’s true. I’m one of those weirdos who can have the ending and twists of a movie, book, or story revealed to me and fully enjoy the thing anyway. I’m kind of a fan of spoiling as a device in fiction, in fact. Stephen King loves to do that. He’ll tell you someone is going to die a hundred pages before they die, and the story of how they die is still delicious. More delicious, I think. The flavor is in the telling.
And I’m not going to give stars. Screw grades, especially when they’re nothing more than my opinion. I always feel awkward trying to give a numerical value to how much I like a thing. I’m also the person who says “well, I don’t really have a favorite, but I do like (names five things)” when asked what their favorite whatever is.
I don’t think less of you if you give stars to things, though. Or have favorites. You do you – and I’m not saying that in a sarcastic way.
Now, the actual review:
Elves of Antarctica by Paul McAuley, found in Drowned Worlds, editor Jonathan Strahan. It’s the kickoff story.
My experience: it was easy to read, but also easy to put down and finish tomorrow, which I did. Neither of those traits, speaking of “put down,” is a putdown. I didn’t find it highly impactful, but it was still worth my time.
Standout features: the worldbuilding was excellent and detailed, as was the backstory of the main character. The story is a fine tour through the state of ecological affairs in the next century, and I found it much in the tradition of Hugo Gernsback with his worldbuilding-heavy “look! It’s the future!” stories. McAuley, however, has not built Hugo’s cardboard cutout characters. While the other characters aren’t fleshed out any more than their cosmetic roles demand, protagonist Mike Torres is a deep and rich character – if the worldbuilding wasn’t so significant to current climate change events, I’d take it for an excuse to plumb the depths of his angst, hope, and his curious entanglement with the phenomenon of the elf stones scattered across the partially uniced landscape of coastal Antarctica (which are inscribed in “elvish,” though are we talking Tolkien’s elvish? How else would people recognize and read Elvish? Maybe I missed the mention of Tolkein – or maybe not. The estate is famously litigious. I was reading this part at three in the morning jotting notes sideways in bed, so who knows what I might have missed in a moment of fatigue.
The stones are mysterious, or not. It’s hard to be sure, and that’s a fine note of humanity in the story. They’re probably placed there by humans, but the “stoners” (distracting name for elf stone enthusiasts, by the way) are happy to muse about mystical origins anyhow. They’re kind of a stand-in for stories in that way – we all know Star Wars is fiction, but there’s a Jedi church anyway. Two of them. Maybe more.
I wasn’t terribly excited to discover that this was a “something happened” story. Don’t come for the wrapup or a hint of conclusion. It’s not there. Which is a thing in the short story world, and there’s still plenty to be had in the reading. I’m just one of those people who favors a more concludey conclusion, even a “let’s just hint at what happens next” ending.
The writing is pretty spare for the most part, definitely in the “just tell the story” tradition – except when it comes to describing the natural world. There, the descriptions become more literary (if maybe prone to cliché phrases like “snow-capped mountains”), a bit closer to poetry, definitely richer and more emotionally evocative. I appreciated it as a touch that created focus on the heart of the story without dragging the reader over and rubbing my nose in it.
Overall, I found it a good read and an excellent way to start an anthology as it takes the reader through a lot of potential developments that are likely to come with a changing climate.
The view from where I used to live in the fall of ’06
Above, is an image of climate change and rising sea levels. Granted, this was during a storm, and also I lived on what is essentially a large paved-over sandbar. But still, Norfolk, Virginia is one of the US cities most affected by the rise in sea levels that comes with climate change. So, not only do I see it on the news and think about it, I see it in a pretty obvious way. And it makes its way into my fiction. I have a story I’m shopping around to SFF magazines set in the near future (edit 2018: the story is Kitty Itty And The Seawall Broke, and I published it myself. You can find links to buy a copy by clicking here.), where the sea has swallowed up the North Carolina barrier islands and coast, and displaced residents scrape a living out of salvaging scraps from submerged towns. A half-finished story is set in an equatorial Africa where daytime temperatures over 50C/120F are an almost daily occurrence, and cities have moved underground (also, there are aliens checking out the local humans) (edit 2018: that story ended up in the trunk because I realized I was writing characters from a position of shallow cultural knowledge, and also it was kinda sucking. But, like many stories destined for the trunk, I learned some stuff writing it). Speed Glacier revolves around the adventures of a group of radical eco-warriors and their improbable craft/weapon in the war against the forces of pollution. Yet another story, My Name is Gerald, is not actually about climate change, but the background descriptions are of a Midwestern USA where the crops have moved north and hot, dry, dust bowl conditions reign.
Climate change has altered the world slightly over just my lifetime to date, and humans, let’s face it, don’t live very long in the perspective of events like global climate shifts. It’s changing fast. And that makes it a hell of an element for speculative stories. Don’t get me wrong, other authors are not particularly missing the boat on this. I have seen climate change as a plot or background element in a number of SF short stories (my primary reading material — I don’t take in novels half as often as I used to).
But I’ve been mulling writing some more stories focused on what the future world might look like in different circumstances. The screw-it-burn-all-the-coal future. The holy-crap-lets-ban-fossil-fuels future. The amazing-new-carbon-sequestering-technology future. The we-tried-to-fix-it-and-screwed-up-here-come-the-glaciers future. The possibilities are endless, which is a quality that endears SFF to me.
I’ve even considered, despite never having done such a thing, the possibility of soliciting the stories of others and building a climate change themed anthology. I’m a bit scared of the prospect; I hear it’s a hell of a lot of work for a group of people, and I can’t help but observe that I am only one person, and one without experience in that area to boot. But it’s something to consider.
Also to consider: will my eventual grandkids or great-great grandkids end up emigrating to Canada to escape the tropical heat of middle US America? Hmm.
One of the things I’ve been working on as a side project along with all the writing has been working out collections so I can publish all of the ebook singles I’ve published in print form. And, as a side effect, have ebook collections available that contain ALL of my stories for those who prefer just to pick up a few collections instead of having 50 individual short stories on their ereaders.
I’m not quite at 50 individual short stories, but I’m getting close. Probably 40 published separately — though I have around 60 actual stories. Some are bundled in ebook form, like ‘Looks Like God’ which is bundled with ‘Bullets For Buddha’ and the five stories in the ‘Isolation and Other Stories’ collection which are not published individually. But anyways: new collection on the way, in print and ebook. ‘Ice Age, Space Age’ contains 13 stories previously only available as singles or as part of the ‘Visions of Odd’ ebook-only mini-collection.
I’ll be setting up the collection page for ‘Ice Age, Space Age’ in a few days, for now it’s available at Smashwords as an ebook, and I’m waiting for Createspace to send me an email telling me (I hope) that the files are all approved so I can release the print edition. From Smashwords, the ebook version will take about two weeks to reach all of the various distributors like Apple and Kobo. If past experience is a guide, Barnes & Noble should have the paperback available within a week of it being approved by Createspace.
How do I keep track of all this? Mostly I just boggle at it and thank goodness that I keep track of it on my blog and at the distributor websites for frequent reminders. One day maybe I’ll be successful enough to pay someone else to keep track.
I’ve finally managed to finish my Isolation And Other Stories collection. 2 novellas, 1 novelette, 2 short stories. About 52,000 words of alternately enjoying the process of creation and considering laying off shaving my head for a while in order to grow hair to pull out. I hope you enjoy it. Right now it’s available on Smashwords, and should make its way through the distribution pipeline to other ebook retailers over the next couple of weeks. I’ll be putting it on Amazon shortly, and will also begin working on reformatting it for Createspace so it can be purchased in paperback as well.
As it works out, Isolation And Other Stories is the 42nd title I’ve published with Smashwords. If you’re a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know the significance of the number 42. You’d better pick up a copy just to be safe.
Drop on over to Isolation‘s page to take a look at blurbs for all five stories contained within.
And now the teaser part: here’s the cover for the short story I’m working on now, The Unfettered Dream. Dream is a tale of speculative history, and I’m not going to tell you anything else about it… other than to show you the cover I’ve concocted for it.
Okay, I’ll tell you one more thing about it: I’ve referred to it as “the secret origin of Buddha” in a couple of tweets. Writing it, so far, has been both interesting and a bit haunting. I should be ready to share it with you in a couple of weeks.
So, I have a new anthology in the works, tentatively titled Isolation and other stories. With a planned five stories, it should come in at a healthy 40,000 words… give or take a little. A couple of the stories are awaiting endings (which I assure you, I am feverishly working on) and the other three are pretty much done, needing only a final read-over for errors and tweaks.
Maybe, between now and then, I will put out another free flash or very short story. But my main focus is on this new anthology.
The five planned stories, in alphabetical order, with mini-blurbs:
Anticipation: An alien-invasion yarn, in which the aliens are considerably more mysterious than usual in this sort of story.
Down on the Farm: A story of organlegging and semi-organized crime. With thanks to Larry Niven for coming up with the idea of organleggers.
The Flowers of Dawn: In which a cultural and ecological misunderstanding escalates into the creation and attempted genocide of a new species.
Isolation: A computer error leads to a man encountering an improbable number of homeless people, and a conspiracy among them.
Turn Me On: A soldier receives a total body prosthesis after being wounded in battle. Life without biochemistry proves challenging indeed.
I don’t know how many more of these redesigns of old covers I’m going to do. I’m kind of attached to the covers I did a year or year and a half ago. I’m kind of attached to the old cover for this one. But it’s a bit clunky, and looks a little more like… well, like an amateur did it. As expected. I was an amateur then. I am a somewhat more skilled amateur now.
Still, I love the new cover (which is the one on the right of the image below, if you hadn’t guessed). I’m happy with my work, and with my progress.
If you’d like to actually read this ebook, it costs a buck ninety-nine and can be found at any of the fine retailers listed under ‘buy my books’ to your right. Seven stories, all flash fiction and vignettes, about 8,400 words. I think you’ll be pleased.
…so I added my four collections to the promotions list. The Smashwords Summer/Winter (because it’s winter in the southern hemisphere, and Smashwords is international) promotion lasts the entire month of July, and the four collections pictured below are 50% off. Which, in the case of the normally-99-cent Visions of Odd collection of flash fiction and vignettes, means FREE.
If you haven’t already picked some of these up, now’s your chance to get a bargain.
Links to each are provided right below this handy image of all four covers:
Important: use code SSW50 to receive your 50% discount. This is also noted on the Smashwords page for each title to remind you.
Hunger is an anthology of short science fiction and fantasy stories. Each of them relates to the hungers that drive humanity–for food, for love, for power, for release from drudgery, or escape from times that have become too interesting. The stories in Hunger speak to the deep drives that move you, the appetites that lurk beneath the surface, struggling to emerge into the light.
This collection contains stories and heroes dealing with big changes. From the end of the world to the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, it’s all about the struggle to transcend… or merely to survive.
There are moments upon which the future hinges. No matter the outcome, the world is a different place after they pass. These stories are about those moments, and the people who rise to the occasion… for good or ill. These five stories will take you from the distant past into the far future, and from the depths to the heights of the human spirit.
FREE WITH DISCOUNT CODE.
A short anthology of eclectic pieces of flash fiction and vignettes, all speculative fiction, ranging from the edge of fantasy to the edge of the solar system.
Edit 6/11/13: Now available from Amazon.
6/16/13: It just went live on Kobo.
New story time again. This time, I had 2 short stories and 1 piece of flash fiction. Together, they add up to about 6500 words. I couldn’t see asking 99 cents for them individually, but together I think it’s a pretty reasonable deal.
The title speaks to the nature of the stories. Each depicts a turning point in history, something that wrought or will wreak gigantic changes that will touch every life on Earth.
I think you’ll like them. You can find 3 From The Edge at Smashwords, and I’ll update here as it becomes available from other outlets.
Have fun reading!
- Stereotypes: The Short Story (krgreen.co.uk)