By Luke Forney
In this installment of “eBook Short Science Fiction,” we have a bunch of authors to look at, so let’s head straight to it!
“Return to the Twentieth Century” by Paul Di Filippo
I’ve been reading Paul Di Filippo’s book reviews in Asimov’s for years, but had managed to never read a single word of his fiction. So, when I came across this novella on amazon, I snapped it up pretty quick. Di Filippo sets up an alternative world in which a new continent has been constructed to help the population problem, and all sorts of scientific achievements came about decades before they happened in our world. However, there is a very real battle between the sexes on the rise, and only the leader of the new nation, his wife and father, and leader of a cannibalistic tribe-cum-white society girl can solve the problem. And they’re going to have to build an elevator to the moon.
Di Filippo’s story is fast-paced, comically stuck in its past’s cultural mores, and a wonderful adventure. Don’t miss out on this on.
“Clockwork Chloe” by Ian Thomas Healy
Ian Thomas Healy is an self-published author I had never heard of before, but he is offering his story “Clockwork Chloe” for free, and what better incentive to try something out is there? In the Old West, a man passing through town discusses his romantic conquests, until someone asks him about Clockwork Chloe, a girl run over by a train and given clockwork prosthesis. However, not everyone listening to the man’s stories in the bar are doing so with innocent ears.
Healy’s story is very short, but it is a fun, fast read. I’ll be checking out more from this author.
“Grace Immaculate” by Gregory Benford
Benford’s latest, “Grace Immaculate,” has not been getting great reviews.Many see this as more of an outline than a story, something I will get to soon. “Grace Immaculate” follows the course of humanity after SETI successfully receives a transmission from a sentient alien species. After the usual information trading, religious groups get in on the discussion, only to find the alien species completely without religion. However, things are about to change. Drastically.
Benford’s story deals with far-reaching ideas and is an engaging read. With its dealings on religion, its comings and goings in particular, the writing feels at times very similar to some biblical texts, with its focus on brief stories about moments, followed by large historical periods skimmed over. In that sense, I found the story to be a wonderful addition to stories of that sub-genre, and a nice change of pace from all of them that focus on the doomsday found in Revelation. An intriguing piece, and at the current price of $0.00, well worth a look.
“The Legionnaires” by T.C. McCarthy
Another new author, T.C. McCarthy is the author of the brand new Germline, released very shortly after this novella. In “The Legionnaires,” which appears to take place well after the events of Germline but doesn’t give away plot points of the novel, the reader follows an all-female group of legionnaires as they struggle through training and fight to save a planet from invaders in a desperate bid to save the children of the city.
McCarthy brilliantly weaves together the interlocked plots of past and present in this story, and creates gripping characters in strange but relatable circumstances. Mixing military science fiction with plenty of interesting world-building, “The Legionnaires” does a brilliant job of storytelling. Read this, and you will understand why I cannot wait to read Germline. A writer to watch, without doubt.
“UR” by Stephen King / “Mile 81” by Stephen King
Stephen King on a science fiction website? Really? Well, one story has a device to view parallel universes, and the other an alien, so I feel justified, and many readers of science fiction likely read King as well, and vice versa. “UR,” which has been out for a while now, follows an English professor who finally gives in and buys a kindle, only to receive one with interdimensional powers. “Mile 81” watches an abandoned car as people stop to see if the passengers need help, only to have the car eat them.
Both stories are an interesting mix of new King and old King. “UR” has the bizarre, Lovecraftian powers from beyond that gave some early King so much power, but the smoothed, involved style of his literary shift in later years. “Mile 81” has the classic King device of “an evil car eats people, there is no reason for it to be there or do that, and if you think too hard about the framework here, this story makes no sense” that made so many successful stories for him, e.g. “Chattery Teeth” or “Sneakers,” among many, many others, not to mention The Long Walk, which I loved and think is one of King’s best novels.
However, “UR” is wonderful and “Mile 81” is unbelievably bad. “UR” takes the bizarre and runs with it, with characters that are distinctly King at his best, running through a fast-paced, fun plot that the reader can’t escape until it is over, with ties to King’s Dark Tower series that are perfect for readers of those books, but that work just as well for those who are new to King as well. It is a great read and a great story.
The brand-new “Mile 81” comes across disjointed, stilted, and one of many King rehashings of the haunted car trope he created and drove into the ground. The main, over-arcing character, a young boy, doesn’t act, speak, or think like a young boy, and King absolutely takes the reader out of it with his poor characterization of him. “Mile 81” is Stephen King at his weakest.
Forget the hype of King’s newest story, and step back a few years to get “UR,” the most fun I have had with a novella in a while.