Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

“‘Run,’ Bakri Says”, by Ferrett Steinmetz

January 21, 2018 Leave a comment


“‘Run,’ Bakri Says” is a story in the vein of Replay or Groundhog Day, about a person in a time loop, living the same events thousands of time.  The only thing is, she’s in a war zone.

Non-Spoiler Summary

The main difference between “‘Run,’ Bakri Says” and the other time loop stories is that Irena isn’t reliving twenty-five years of life, or one day she controls: she’s got fifty minutes to rescue her brother from an American jail in the unnamed country.  She’s got to get past a sniper, two guards outside, and find her brother Sammi in the jail.  It takes thousands of tries.

Why should you read it?

“‘Run,’ Bakri Says” is about what war does to people who can’t get out.  Irena starts out not wanting to kill the soldiers, and a few hundred iterations later, she’s measuring statistics on how often she can make head-shots.  For such a short story, it traces the dissolution of her personality quite vividly.  I’d almost call it science fiction-horror.

Where to find “‘Run,’ Bakri Says”

This story is available freely on Escape Pod’s site, in audio and text.


“Triceratops Summer”, by Michael Swanwick

January 14, 2018 Leave a comment

“Triceratops Summer” is a story about some dinosaurs blocking the road, some vacations that weren’t taken, some time that doesn’t matter, and some physics in the background.  Largely a piece about how time feels in a given situation, rather than deeply plot driven.

Non-Spoiler Summary

A herd of triceratops show up on an early summer day, and our viewpoint characters are stuck in the traffic they generate.  Shortly, a man from the Applied Physics lab nearby show up, and tell them where the “trikes” come from.  The rest of the story is how everyone lives with the dinosaurs for the rest of the summer.

Why should you read it?

“Triceratops Summer” is a meditation on what one does with one’s days, and whether it’s more fulfilling to leave one’s home or just enjoy the events of a normal life.  After re-reading it to write this post, I’m reminded of how little actually happens in this story–it’s almost more about not doing things than doing them–and how good the images of sitting on the back porch feeding cabbage to dinosaurs just feels.

Where to find “Triceratops Summer”

This story is available freely on Baen’s site, in text.

“Rocket Surgery”, by Effie Seiberg

January 7, 2018 Leave a comment

“Rocket Surgery” is a story about smart bombs, when they get really smart, and start asking philosophical questions.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Teeny is a bomb with AI.  Something like a neural net.  He has to be trained to do his missions… but what happens when he starts generalizing from what’s assigned to what’s really good?  And what happens when he asks about what happens after his missions–remember, he’s a bomb.  For him, there is no after.

Why should you read it?

“Rocket Surgery” is a sad and funny piece about a bomb’s college education.  It’s the story of what happens when you make the bomb smart enough that it starts asking questions, what happens when a weapon becomes a warrior. . . becomes a philosopher.  The story has a refrain of “Did I do good?”  Teeny resolves all of these issues, all at once, and pretty well. . . for a bomb.

Where to find “Rocket Surgery”

This story is available freely on Escape Pod’s site, both in text and audio.

Read _The Martian_.

August 25, 2015 Leave a comment

That the imperative form, not the past tense–I just said “reed” The Martian, not “red” The Martian. Which I have also done, twice, but I’m telling you that if you haven’t, you should.

(People ranging from Adam Savage of Mythbusters to Barack Obama of the White House are also recommending this book, so I’m not alone. Not hardly.)

_The Martian_ is the story of the third manned trip to Mars. The first one to experience any real difficulty. A sandstorm. It forces the month-long trip to be aborted after less than a week. It causes them to leave for Earth, and kills one of the crew members.

Except, y’know, it _doesn’t_. It leaves Mark Watney supposedly dead and abandoned on Mars. Alone. For the first time in human history, there is only one person on a planet. And nobody knows he’s there.

He tries to survive one day. Then another. Then another. And things happen. I have now spoiled the first, oh, five pages of the book. Maybe a bit more.

This book is very much for anyone who thought that the best part of Apollo 13 was when the flight director dumped a pile of parts the Apollo astronauts would have out on the table and said “We need to connect this [one port] to that [another port] using only this [pile of junk].” This phrasing is not original to me, but it is both apt and funny, so I’m stealing it.

It is also for anyone who recognizes and values human ingenuity, dignity, heroism, sacrifice, and several other high-minded emotions I can’t even name without getting sucked back into a complete re-read of the book.

Yes, it gets math-ey, in some places. If the numbers bug you or bore you, skip them. Some of them aren’t exactly right anyway, and very few of them are important to the story of a man who will. Not. Give. Up.

There’s a movie coming. Let me tell you, I avoided the trailer as long as I could, because I didn’t need to be sold. I was going first weekend, likely first night. But when I saw it, a _trailer_ made me weep. Weep. My son Joshua asked me if I was okay, the tears came so hard and fast.

I have recommended many works of fiction over my years as a bookseller and after. _The Martian_ gets my very highest recommendation.

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“Down Memory Lane”, by Mike Resnick

June 26, 2013 2 comments

“Down Memory Lane” is a 2005 science fiction short story by Mike Resnick.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2006.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Down Memory Lane” is the story of a man losing his wife to Alzheimer’s, and the lengths to which he’s willing to go to help her.

Why should you read it?

For the first time in this blog, I’m going to tell you that I’m not the person to tell you why you should read this story.  It’s well written, as every Resnick piece is.  However, as someone who lost his father to Huntington’s Disease and is dealing with my mother losing parts of her memory at this very moment, I almost never enjoy stories about mental degeneration.  And this blog is about telling you what I love.

I don’t love this story.  It’s very well done, but it was no fun at all for me.  If you want to a recommendation, let the bulk of Resnick’s work make it, and perhaps read some or all of the other pieces of his I’m going to recommend here, or have.  But I can’t recommend this one, even though it may deserve it.  I just can’t do it.

Where to find “Down Memory Lane”

E scape Pod has a well acted version of “Down Memory Lane” in audio.

“Tk’tk’tk”, by David D. Levine

June 24, 2013 1 comment

“Tk’tk’tk” is a 2005 science fiction short story by David D. Levine.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2006.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Tk’tk’tk” is the story of a human salesman who goes to a very alien planet, and tries to sell the software he represents to other humans.  Unfortunately, the people he’s speaking to are aliens, and don’t buy.  When he learns to sell to aliens, then suddenly success comes to him.  When he learns to be an alien, then his life changes.

Why should you read it?

On one level, this is brilliant science fiction, with a very Campbellian hook: these aliens don’t think much like humans, but they do think as well as humans.  But this time, I’m not going to suggest you should read this story for the science fiction.  “Tk’tk’tk” is the story of a man who is learning when struggle is not just going to get you nothing, but is actively counterproductive.  It’s the story of a man learning to release himself and become the other, in order to serve both the other and himself.  That’s the part of it I’ll be taking with me.  The aliens themselves are almost set dressing for the transformation of a man with an drive to overcome into a man who accepts.

Where to find “Tk’tk’tk”

This story is available online as text courtesy of Asimov’s, or in audio from Escape Pod.  I especially recommend the text version, as the alien language makes for some sounds you’ve never heard before.  I admire them for even trying this story.

“Kirinyaga”, by Mike Resnick

“Kirinyaga” is a 1988 science fiction short story by Mike Resnick.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1989.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Kirinyaga” is the story of the mundumugu, or witch doctor, of a recreated Kikuyu people, living on a created world in space.  They’ve followed their tribal ways, and killed a baby born feet first, which is an indication that the baby is a demon.  Now they face an intervention by Maintenance, the people who made the created world they live on, and unspecified penalties.

Why should you read it?

Killing a baby is a bad thing.  Killing a demon is a good thing.  How does one tell if a baby is a demon?  Well, Maintenance knows that if both parents are human, there’s a good chance the baby is.  The mundumugu knows differently–his culture tells him that the circumstances of the baby’s birth clearly indicate that it is not human.

He wants cultural purity for his people, the adults of which have chosen to live by the (sometimes harsh) rules of the Kikuyu.  But babies… haven’t.  How can he convince Maintenance to leave them alone to follow their traditional ways?

The writing is lovely.  The Eutopian worlds are a brilliant idea that I continue to want to read more about.  This is one of my favorite stories, and I was delighted to reread it for this review.  (Note that this is the same world as “One Perfect Morning, With Jackals“.)

Where to find “Kirinyaga”

Baen Books has graciously allowed us to read “Kirinyaga” online.