Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Project Empathy by Dominica Phetteplace

"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. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Bone Plain by Karin Tidbeck

"The Bone Plain" by Karin Tidbeck 

This story came from "Uncanny Magazine" November/December issue #19 written by Karin Tidbeck.  You can read this story here: on the Uncanny Magazine website.  There is also a podcast that interviews the author which is nice. 

This was a relaxing and welcoming story.  I lay in bed as I read this story and closed my eyes.  I imagined myself on an adventure hiking a trail maybe on a pilgrimage, or maybe just for fun.  Feeling the sun hitting my face and back.  Enjoying the company of friends and meeting strangers for the first time.  I loved what the story sparked in my imagination. 

The story followed a girl named Erika.  It started with her riding in a bus far out past what she is accustomed to being around.  After departing from the bus, she met an old man named Sol.  Sol invited Erika to join him and his friends on a hike to Worlds End.  Unsure of traveling with people she just met Erika thought things over.  While thinking things through Erika flashes back to a fight with her parents about living with an older man. 

Erika decided to take Sol and his friends, Stephen and Kim, up on their offer.  Erika bought some shoes, a jacket, and rain slicker and off they went.  They stayed at hostels along the trail talking about themselves or about people they met on the trail or at the hostel.  Everyone seemed to get along just fine. 

While everyone else would talk about themselves and get to know each other, Erika held back.  She didn't want them to know too much about her.  There was something dark in her past.  Something she didn't want them to know.  Something she wished she could just forget herself.  Flashes back to a man waking her up during the night.  Of pretending to be nice.  Things a predator would do.  

What is the prey fought back?   

Did Erika run away from something horrible?  Maybe she ran away because she did something horrible?  

Maybe Erika ended up exactly where she needed to be.  In a far-away village hiking a trail with people that renewed her faith in humanity.  A hike that she could leave behind her old self and be forgiven for anything in her past. Maybe, just maybe. 

As I stated previously, I just loved the feelings this story evoked.  Even though it dealt with some dark themes it had a beautiful landscape.  Erika had to see the beautiful before she could see the darkness.  That's how I viewed this story. 

There was turmoil and darkness surrounding everything about Erika when she left on the bus.  Blinded by the darkness she had nowhere to go and couldn't see where she was headed.  Slowly she let the light of her surrounding in and it helped her to see what was around her.  To guide her.  To help her find her way through the darkness. 

Sol was instrumental in this transformation.  He helped guide Erika through the darkness when she couldn't see for herself.  He eased her into the light.  Like a baptism, he gently bathed her in the light.  Then when all was said and done she was forgiven and like new again. 

This was a fantastic story all around.  I highly recommend it.  The author did an awesome job in painting a landscape of the beauty of friends and nature while dealing with some dark themes.  I will be looking for more stories by this author in times to come.  The authors writing was clear, concise, and flowed well.  I might possibly pick up her collection of short stories called "Jagannath" and do some further reading from her. 

She also has a novel called "Amatka." 

All That Robot Shit by Rich Larson

"All That Robot Shit" by Rich Larson   All That Robot Shit was first published in Asimov Magazine, August 2016,  issue  ...