Webzine Story Recommendations: May 2015

"By Degrees and Dilatory Time" * S. L. Huang * Strange Horizons * 2015-05-18 * 4089 * sf * 2015-07-17

I wanted very much to stop reading this after the first few paragraphs as I am sick of reading about sickness. However, this story handled its material well, keeping its attention on the story rather than seeming to exult in the gory details or wallowing in the negative emotions and, indeed, the effect of the story is the opposite of many "sickness stories" even aside from the fact that it may be more generally applicable. I think at least two things most impressed me. First, the integration of the science and the fiction was such that people who didn't like science fiction would hardly realize that was what they were reading while people who do like it can appreciate the speculative elements. Perhaps even more than that, the story was full of moments of psychological acuity. Not everyone would react as this protagonist does, but I could certainly accept those reactions and was fascinated by them.

"The Counselor" * Robin Sloan * Terraform * 2015-05-25 * 3186 * sf * 2015-07-17

This is not entirely appropriate but I have to say I was going to give this an honorable mention because I feel that the story could have been improved by more discrete infopackets rather than the major infodump it contains and that it could have been much more emotionally resonant throughout and not strained itself at the end. As is, it seemed like the protagonist was more petulant and annoyed than in a genuine existential crisis and the end seemed overwrought. Also, it is explicitly not dystopian which would be a wonderful thing except that it manages to sneak dystopia in through the back door and to be an individualized dystopia regardless. It's also largely been done, and better, in, e.g., Silverberg's "Going" (amazing how often that story comes up). That said, this was genuine science fiction with a genuine idea and was executed more than competently if not spectacularly. But it's more the article that accompanies the story which I wanted to point out. The two together certainly do work as something that I recommend reading. And I'll let the article summarize the story as it does it much better than I could, except that it needs to add the point that this is set in a society of immortals whose finances are being wrecked by the last mortal generation:

In Robin Sloan's The Counselor, a dying man squares off against a machine of his own creation. However, the combat is not physical, but emotional--the system deploys a formidable arsenal of persuasive weaponry in an attempt to convince the patient to end his own life. The Counselor asks questions, uses strategic silence, and is intelligently designed to deploy religion when it might convince a patient to make the decision that the machine desires. The patient, for his part, fends off these tactics and tries to avoid repeated attempts by the AI to rattle his determination to survive.

"Faraday Cage" * Timothy J. Gawne * Perihelion * 2015-05 * 1549 * sf * 2015-07-26

A guy's trying to get a normal coffee but is stuck in line behind all the abnormal coffees when a downright crazy-seeming coffee gets behind him and he finds himself giving tips on how to make a better tinfoil hat. Concise, funny, clever, and more.

"For the Love of Sylvia City" * Andrea M. Pawley * Clarkesworld * 2015-05, #104 * 5314 * sf * 2015-07-21

This is a tale of a dryland woman finding sanctuary in an underwater habitat nation while disaster and war goes on above and around. The focus is on what the sanctuary has come to mean to her and how she values it.

There are two primary problems with this tale. 1) It is YAEDS (Yet Another Ecological Disaster Story). 2) When the protagonist is trying to save a drowning boy and they are both bobbing up and down in the ocean while an attack plane moves toward them the author takes this perfect opportunity to deliver a massive infodump while we sit there and bob along with the two characters, bringing the movement of the story to a crashing halt. I like a good infodump as much as the next SF fan but there are times and places for them.

Otherwise, this has great depth (no pun intended) for its size and is very interesting.