Monday, February 12, 2018
"All That Robot Shit" by Rich Larson
All That Robot Shit was first published in Asimov Magazine, August 2016, issue 09| Later republished in the anthology The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017 edited by Rich Larson. You can read this story online here: http://www.asimovs.com/assets/1/6/AllThatRobot-RichLarson.pdf .
The story followed a robot named Carver Seven. Carver seven is a semi-intelligent robot who lived in a village on an island with other robots. Carver Seven's job is a carver. It carves things. Other robots in the village have other jobs. Some make spears, or clubs, or tend to the village in some way.
In the village there happened to only be one robot who was known as the Recycler. It recycled unused parts or whatever needed to be disposed. The Recycler was the one robot that Carver Seven trusted. The Recycler held a secret for Carver Seven.
On the island there is also a man, referred to as just the "man." His story unfolds as the story progressed. He became stranded on the island after some sort of accident and in a way befriended Carver Seven and vice versa. They converse while the robot learned to speak from the man's phrases. Carver Seven constantly repeats things he heard the man say, trying to put them into context, as a way to communicate.
Much of the story progressed while unfolding the relationship Carver Seven has with the man. The story is focused on the robots with the man as a side note. Focusing on the village of robots and the interplay of the society they have formed. Then something happened.
As always Rich Larson doesn't disappoint. I have yet to read a story by Larson that I regret reading. He has a great writing style and knows how to tell a hell of a story. There is a reason why his name appears on almost every magazine, anthology, or best of the year books. He knows what he's doing and this story is no different.
I love how the story examines what a future of robots or AI could possibly look like. Whether as an experiment or a world dominating force. What if mankind fucks us all over by creating robots that could destroy us and take over the world. A scary thought.
The exchanges between characters were great. You were quickly drawn to each character and had a stake in each of their lives. Each character felt unique and had their own voice. By the end of the story I was emotionally invested in the characters and what would happen to them.
The society of robots was interesting as well. An interesting vision of how robots might communicate with each other. How they might be able to power themselves with or without human intervention. The robots were very well thought out.
This story was not that long actually quite a quick read. Yet Larson managed to make it seem like a big story with a grand scope of things. He put a lot of energy into a small impact. Getting hit with a great story covering so many different aspects of life.
Loved this story. I can't wait to read my next Rich Larson story!
Thursday, February 1, 2018
"Fifty Shades of Grays" by Steven Barnes
Fifty Shades of Grays was first published in Lightspeed Magazine, June 2016, issue 73. Later published in the anthology The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017 edited by Rich Horton. You can read the story on Lightspeed's website here: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/fifty-shades-grays/ .
There is also a nice interview with Steven Barnes on Lightspeed Magazine's website. You can find it here: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/nonfiction/author-spotlight-steven-barnes/ .
This story was about a man named Carver Kofax who worked for a marketing and sales agency called Stein and Baker. He was about to sign his life away on a confession to the government. That's where the story starts.
Carver was having dinner with a graphic artist named Rhonda Washington at a sushi restaurant. They were talking about a pitch that they had to make, but were told nothing about. They ruminated on what the pitch could be about and why they were teamed up for the pitch. They were to attend a conference that would explain what the pitch would be about. The conference turned out to be a prequel to a competition for the best pitch from hundreds of different agencies. They found out that the pitch was who could make "ugly sexy."
They were taken to a hotel room where they spent hours going over ideas. Eventually one thing led to another and they went for each other with animal lust. Rhonda ended up drawing some explicit pornographic pictures as a pitch idea joke. The porno pictures ended up getting put into the envelope that was sent with their pitch. Later that day they ended up getting a call saying their pitch was accepted and they were to come and talk about accepting the proposal.
A drone limo came to pick up Carver and Rhonda and shuttled them to the pentagon. The whole time they were wondering when porn became a national security issue. They were ushered into a room where they signed non-disclosure agreements. Then the President herself came into the room to explain the situation.
The situation turned out to be that they came into contact with an alien . The aliens came in had technology that was vastly superior to what they had. The aliens wanted to trade that technology for one thing. They wanted to have sex with the humans. The problem was that the aliens were ugly as sin and the nation needed a way to make people want to have sex with ugly aliens. That's where Carver and Rhonda came into the picture. It was going to be their job, if they chose to accept it, to make the ugly aliens sexy.
This was a really interesting premise for a story. I wasn't expecting what came next. The whole premise of aliens coming to have sex with us was a bit funny to me. I could just picture what it would be like to have aliens come half way across the galaxy and then want nothing but to have recreational sex with us. the author hangs a lantern on this aspect of the story as a funny premise as well.
The rest of the story delves into some of the subtler aspects of the alien race and their request. What would it take to make ugly sexy? If they did succeed in their mission of making sexy ugly, what would sex with an alien be like?
This story also dealt with a theme of relationships and how they evolve and possibly devolve. What would happen if earth stopped producing children. If couples no longer wanted to have children. What would our world look like?
I enjoyed this story very much. I was drawn into the story almost immediately and although not a thrilling short story was eager to turn the page. I just had to see where the next page took me in the story. I had emotional responses to some of the scenes in the story because I was drawn in so much.
The story was well paced and did a fantastic job of making a suspension of disbelief possible. I mean the thought of this actually happening... come on! However, while reading the story I totally found it possible. I was even guessing as to what would happen next or hoping things would come up in the story to find out the author thought of it as well. Many of my questions were answered.
I liked how the story touched on the politics of what would didn't go so far as to be overly political. There was just enough politics to make the story enjoyable.
A great read overall. I enjoyed the play on words with the title. Such an aptly named story.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
"Project Empathy" by Dominica Phetteplace
This story was read from "The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017" edited by Rich Horton. The story was originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine issue 03|16, published on February 18, 2016.
This story was the opening story to the "Best of" anthology by Rich Horton. An introduction to what was to come further in the anthology.
This story was about a girl named Bel who lived in Concord. She went to work for a restaurant named Blue Cup. As part of her working at Blue Cup she was required to sign her life away. Her every waking move, word, and thought would be monitored. Bel happily signed her life away without even blinking an eye. She needed a job and needed to help support her parents.
The story was told from a narrator's point of view. In the beginning we aren't sure who the narrator was, but later in the story the narrator became apparent. We aren't sure exactly what the narrator was attempting to do during most of the story or what the purpose was, but most of the loose ends seem to be cinched up by the end of the story.
Bel was a hostess at Blue Cup. A simple title, but yet far from a simple job. To be successful and excel at being a hostess there were many things that Bel needed to do. She needed to learn and become friends with the regular guests of Blue Cup. She needed to learn what they liked, what they did, who they were, and be able to know what they wanted before they did. Bel had to keep up on social media sites and figure out who was who of what social cliques, and the hierarchies, so she could determine who would be compatible with each other while at Blue Cup. She would introduce people who were compatible to help increase their social standing and friendships. Many layers to being just a hostess. At the end of a year Bel proved that she not only knew what she was doing, but excelled past every other hostess at Blue Cup Concord.
During the time that Bel was working at Blue Cup Concord she was being measured and tested for various things. Even including her attractiveness quality as measured by facial dimensions. They nailed down everything there was about Bel and her abilities in all things.
Since Bel excelled so well in Concord she asked to be transferred to the San Francisco Blue Cup. Blue Cup worked out a transfer from Concord High to the Pre-Collegiate High School in San Francisco for her and made the transfer to the new Blue Cup possible.
The San Francisco Blue Cup held new possibilities for Bel. The ability to earn more money was one of those things. Better schools were in the city and that meant better education. Unfortunately for Bel some of those things didn't quite work out they she had thought they would. She found out that things in San Francisco, or the City, were completely different from Concord where she grew up.
Bel would have to work twice, even three times, harder than everyone else to make it.
This is where the story took off and the adventure through Bel's time in the City started. Her trials and her tribulations. Her discoveries about others and about herself. Maybe even discovering something about Blue Cup...
An AI narrator and corporate America were an interesting perspective for the story. The story had all the elements of science fiction, but also had a ring of truth layered into the story. This was definitely a multi-layered story. Done very well.
Delved into how corporate America views the public and their customers. We all know they want as much information as possible about their customer base or their client lists. This story goes slightly deeper into the lengths a corporation will go through to create a database of what makes people tick, both the customer and the employee.
There were aspects of our society and how we relate to each other. How social media played such a big part in everybody's daily lives. How everyone puts their entire life on social media and how much information can be gleaned about someone's life just by reading their social media profile. This also lends credit to the social cliques a person is a part of and maybe even the hierarchy of the clique and where the person lands in that social order.
Then of course there was the AI narrator. The AI narrator sort of brings it all together. I don't want to give too much away here because it's part of the grand scheme of the story. Let's just say that I doubt it will be long, if it's not already here, that corporations in our day in age will be using this technology. They already are to some extent, but I doubt quite like this. The AI narrator will definitely bring the story home and sew together the threads of the story as they unfold.
This was a good opening story for the anthology. Many layers about different aspects of life. A personal story within an impersonal story. I guess it came down to who was a good person and who wasn't.
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