The March issue of Clarkesworld Magazine was a mixed bag for me. There were two stories that I simply loved, one I didn’t like much at all, and two that were just meh. Here are my brief individual reviews for each story.
The opening story “Love in the Season of New Dance” by Bo Balder is a poignant tale of a researcher on an alien planet studying a cicada-like species. This researcher is touched by the predicament of a single creature as it breaks through to the surface long before its fellows, dooming it to die before the rest arise. A touching relationship grows through their short time together. (My rating: 4/5)
In “Pinocchio Photography” by Angela Liu, the main character is a photographer in an eerie future where the dead can be animated post mortem and their pictures taken with loved ones with a special type of film. This photographer starts the job as a side hustle that her mother disapproves of and her dying father sees her enjoying. They all come together in a bittersweet and emotional conclusion. (My rating: 5/5)
“The Spoil Heap” by Fiona Moore takes place across two times—the story’s present and past as the main character Morag remembers it. The back and forth between the two time periods gives the tale a slowly unfolding suspense as it reveals what is actually happening in the present. And that present is a post apocalyptic world that fell into a form of feudalism before Morag took action to create the world of the present. (My rating: 5/5)
Bek of “Bek, Ascendant” by Shari Paul has left her home planet just prior to its destruction and become part of a team of aliens who help to resettle species that have lost their home planets. She had thought that she was the last human alive but finds that many from her planet were rescued by the alien confederacy that she is now a part of. And her childhood friend the Emperor is still alive. And now her team is being sent to manage their resettlement. How will she handle this unforeseen turn of events? (My rating: 3/5)
In a future where clones are created regularly by corporations, the clones are only given rights and recognized as “human” (rather than property) once they pass a test to “convert”. If a clone fails to convert, it is automatically destroyed at a certain age via an implant. But some unconverted clones don’t want to recognize such a system by participating in the testing process. One clone who works for a cloning company is challenged by this choice in “Failure to Convert” by Shih-Li Kow. This story is a touching exploration of what it means to be human and the choices that make us more or less so. (My rating: 4/5)
What it means to be human is also explored in “Zeta-Epsilon” by Isabel J. Kim. It is an emotional story of a brother and sister raised together and treated as property by the company that created their relationship. The brother is human and the sister is a sentient AI that was planted in his brain. They were raised together to become a ship (the sister) and its pilot (the brother). But they both want more than that from life. They want freedom and agency. This is the story of how they seek that together. (My rating: 4/5)
It wasn’t clear to me at first what was going on it “AI Aboard the Golden Parrot” by Louise Hughes. It is one of those stories that kind of dumps you into the tale and leaves you to figure out what it means as you go. That can work well sometimes, but that isn’t the case here. At least not for me. The story is about an old pirate carnival ride that is now roaming the ocean as it cautiously approaches a city that seems not to want it to. (My rating: 3/5)
The final story of the issue, “Love is a Process of Unbecoming” by Jonathan Kincaid, was a complete disappointment for me. It felt experimental, and the experiment failed. It seems to be about an infection and what is does to its host. But it felt like a jumble, and I never really understood what was going on. But, maybe that’s just me. It might be just what someone else is looking for. (My rating: 2/5)
The wonderful in this issue is weighed down a bit by the meh and jumbled stories to yield an overall rating of the fiction of 3.75. Definitely worth a read for the high rated stories.