Posts Tagged ‘free in print’

“Second Person, Present Tense”, by Daryl Gregory

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

You know, in the golden age of science fiction, a good new idea was pretty much all a story needed to get published.  And in the modern age, all a story seems to need is an emotional impact.  This story has both.

Imagine a drug that suppresses the relationship between the conscious mind and the decision-making process.  And not in the way you expect–it’s my impression that people would guess that the conscious mind would be trapped in an inactive body.  That’s not what happens here, on this drug, Zen.  Instead, Gregory gives details about a theory where the conscious mind isn’t really making the decisions at all: The Queen-Page-Parliament model.  The Queen is consciousness, supposedly making decisions based on information brought to it by the Page (the limbic system) from the brain, or Parliament.  The trick here is that we think that the Queen gathers data and then makes decisions, and then the body acts. . . but that’s not right.  Consciousness seems to ride along beside the decision making process, approving it and perhaps editing it for content, but the actual decisions are made at a different level.  When you see someone you know, your hand is already rising for the handshake before your Queen recognizes them.  120 milliseconds before.  A measurable time.

Back to the drug, Zen.  It suppresses the Queen.  Consciousness no longer happens when you’re high on it.  You don’t look that different from the outside, because decisions are still being made, but there’s a different quality to it for the user.

And if you overdose, when consciousness comes back, it may no longer related to the person you were when you left.  Same Parliament and Page.  Different Queen.

“Second Person, Present Tense” is the story of a young woman who overdoses on Zen and the new person who wakes up in her body.  And that new person’s relationship with the old person’s parents.

Frightening.  Enlightening.  A short story that left me with things to think about weeks after I read it.

Free in print
Available in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection
Not available in audio

“Ghosts of New York”, by Jennifer Pelland

September 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Warning: This story is not appropriate for children.  It is not fun.  It may offend you, that I chose to list it at all, or that I chose to list it today.  But it helped me get ready for today, and I thought some of you might not know about it.

“Ghosts of New York”, as I’m sure you can guess, is a story about the fallout of 9/11.  The story, particularly, of the ghosts that it left behind.  Literal ghosts–not ghosts as in the images of destruction that every one of us over fifteen can call up, but haunts.  The spectral remainders of the people who jumped.

There are no answers in this story.  For one thing, it has a severe weak point, in that it never explains why only jumpers become ghosts.  It doesn’t solve, salve, or soften 9/11.

It does remind me of the feelings that I had on that day.  It doesn’t make me experience them again, but it removes enough of the scab to remind me that tragedy and death, however horrible, are part of the flow of history and our lives.  This isn’t the first time New York has had a disaster.  It won’t be the last.

Please, let it be the last time it’s deliberate, though.

Text: Available courtesy of Apex Publications
Audio: Podcastle 153

“Card Sharp”, by Rajan Khanna

September 5, 2011 4 comments

New systems of magic. Vengeance. Master and apprentice. Desperate action. This story came from an anthology called The Way of the Wizard, and while I haven’t read all of the stories in the book, if this story is indicative, I’m going to have to.

Rajan Khanna is a familiar name to me most because he narrates a lot of stories over at Escape Artists, the parent organization for Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod. He’s a great reader, but I’m only starting to get a sense of how good a writer he is, too.

“Card Sharp” is a story set in a Maverick-like pulp-Western world, so the story is almost genre even without the magic. The magic, however, is fairly unique and well implemented. Card sharps can enchant a single deck of cards, giving them 54 (jokers count) spells. In a lifetime. No more. The usual tropes of magic ranging from magic as unlimited resource to magic as something you have to rest to recuperate don’t begin to limit a “mage” as much as this does–the quotes are because I don’t even feel comfortable calling someone a mage when magic is so rare even in their lives.

The story goes quickly and is compelling, and the reading is excellent. This story gets a high “fun” rating from me.

Text: From The Way of the Wizard, but the story is available for free.
Audio: Podcastle 147

“Mars: A Traveler’s Guide”, by Ruth Nestvold

March 10, 2011 6 comments

This story has no plot and no characters.

Okay, okay, I suppose it does have a character.  However, that character is never seen and never heard.

You see, the entire story is told in the responses that a computer has to the character.  And all the character does is look things up on the computer.

Of course, the things the person looks up have a specific agenda. . . rescue.  Alone on Mars.

Funny, scary, and very, very well done.

“Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” in print (as part of the linked .pdf)
“Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” in audio

“Standard Loneliness Package”, by Charles Yu

Right up front, I don’t think the science of this story will hold any water.  But it feels right, so I’m recommending it.

“Standard Loneliness Package” is the story of a man who works in an industry. . . The business of feeling other people’s pain.  He’s a wage slave, getting twelve dollars an hour to be at funerals, feel guilty for affairs, go to the dentist, or experence loss.  He lives in a world where you can sell your life, or buy someone else’s, and he realizes that he’s doing that, but just an hour at a time.

It moves on to being a love story.  But in a world where life and pain can be moved from person to person, what is love?  What does it mean to let someone into yourself?

Again, the science doesn’t hold up.  But the emotions are very right.

Text of “Standard Loneliness Package”


“The Green Book”, by Amal El-Mohtar

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

“The Green Book” is a story I’d never heard of until the Nebula nominations came out this week, but it’s a story I’ll be rereading shortly.

The Green Book is an actual book, but for at least part of the story, it also functions as the body of a deceased woman, and it’s pages as her voice. And there are only so many pages. There are several voices in the story (or in the book) and they make it very atmospheric.

Text of “The Green Book”

“Evil Robot Monkey”, by Mary Robinette Kowal

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Remember “The Orange”, where I said that it would be faster if you just believed me and went and read it because it fit on one page and why are you still here when you could be reading the story already please go? “Evil Robot Monkey” isn’t that short, but it’s still short enough that why are you still here?

Nominated for the Hugo. The link above contains the text and hosts audio.

This is one of the saddest pieces I’ve ever read, and one of the reasons that I know that Mary Robinette Kowal is a writer to watch. I have not yet read her Shades of Milk and Honey, but I will, and I have her collection Scenting the Dark on order.

“The Cambist and Lord Iron”, by Daniel Abraham

February 12, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s Thursday, right?  Still?  I mean, I was sick for a day and a half, but I don’t remember mornings, so it’s still Thursday.  I’m sure of it.

The Cambist is a moneychanger.  He changed one currency for another, at a posted rate.

Lord Iron is a bored noble with an evil streak.  He goes in to the Cambist’s office with an unlisted currency, and points out that if the Cambist can’t change his money in a certain time period, the Cambist will lose his license.  Lord Iron does this because he’s bored, and it seems diverting to destroy the Cambist.  Hence, evil.

The Cambist does not allow himself to be destroyed.

Lord Iron does not allow himself to be put off.

The subtitle is “A Fairy Tale of Economics”.  I can not imagine another story that would deserve that subtitle.

Text of “The Cambist and Lord Iron”
Audio of “The Cambist and Lord Iron”

“Reparations”, by Merrie Haskell

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

We bombed Hiroshima.  We bombed Nagasaki.  Seventy-five thousand people killed on the first day, and another hundred and fifty thousand dying over the next two years.

I’ve read the arguments.  I hear the assertion that more lives were saved by killing these people.  Part of me even believes it.  Sometimes.

But despite that, my country burned more people to death in atomic fire than I will meet in my entire lifetime.  And I can’t do anything about it.

But what if you could?  What if you could go back and help the survivors?  What if time travel was real and you could go back and offer aid and comfort to the survivors of this horror?  Would you do it?

Would you do it over and over?

And what would it do to you if you did?

“Reparations” is not an easy story.  And again, like last week, I’m not even really recommending it for the plot.  It’s the experience of watching Laura do what. . . needs to be done.  What must be done, once it’s possible.  Addressing this incredible inhumanity in the only way one can: by going back and helping.

As a person of Jewish extraction, I’ve always found something of a balance between the Holocaust and usage of the atomic bomb.  World War II was not a humane war.  But in the context of this story, it’s finally made a human war.

Text of “Reparations”
Audio of “Reparations”

“Kimberley Ann Duray is Not Afraid”, by Leah Bobet

January 6, 2011 2 comments

Leah Bobet has written some very atmospheric pieces, including “Furnace Room Lullaby”, that demonstrate to me that she is a very good writer with the potential to get even better.  I did not select this story on the strength of the writing.  In fact, I don’t even think this is the best of her stories from that angle.

No, I picked this one because of the idea, and my reaction to it.  And the fact that nearly a year later, I still think about this story, when hundreds of others–even better ones–have gone by the wayside.

You see, Kimberley Ann works in the Bruce clinic, which is bombed at the start of this story.  You’re supposed to think about abortion clinic bombings, but this isn’t an abortion clinic.  It’s a race-change clinic.  It caters to people who, like those who find themselves in a body of the wrong gender, identify as something inside that they aren’t outside.

I’ve seen people in my life go through changes of religion, gender, sexual orientation, mental health, and legal status.  The simple idea of a process that can move you from one race to another hit me completely without warning.  Is race a social construct?  Does it continue to exist truly because we don’t have any options with regards to it?  As a Caucasian, race is slightly baffling to me–if you ask me to define myself in a limited number of words, the number would get pretty high before “white” was one of the things I listed.  This story made me think about that assumption, and stop taking it for granted.

Text of “Kimberley Ann Duray is Not Afraid”
“Kimberley Ann Duray is Not Afraid” does not appear to have an audio version available.