The latest short fiction magazine that I finished is the June 2023 issue of Clarkesworld. You may have heard about this magazine in the news regarding generative AI. Earlier this year, they were inundated with AI generated story and cover art submissions. They are dedicated to keeping the magazine human generated only. Here are my brief descriptions and ratings.
The issue starts strong with “The Officiant” by Dominica Phetteplace. In it, a human arrives on non-human planet to perform a wedding and is asked to perform visions. After refusing, she later learns what is causing those visions. I enjoyed this brief exploration of culture clash and purpose. (My rating: 4/5)
Next up is the superb “Vast and Trunkless Legs of Stone” by Carrie Vaughn. Earth is alerted to a coming space ship whose passengers request an interview with one human. This is how they meet other sentient species—one-on-one. The main character is chosen and trained. But then comes the actual interview. What a wonderful new take on first contact! (My rating: 5/5)
I am normally a big fan of everything that Isabel J. Kim writes. That was not the case with her tale “Day Ten Thousand“. While I appreciated what she was doing in the story, I found it confusing in a way that ultimately went flat for me. It is the story of Dave, a clone of a ten-thousand-year-old man. Unfortunately, most of the other characters are also named Dave. That’s what makes it confusing. A potentially interesting story about stories, fate, and agency that could have used a bit more editing. (My rating: 3/5)
“Imagine: Purple-Haired Girl Shooting Down the Moon” by Angela Liu is a very dark tale in quite a hopeless dystopia. The main character works in a brothel while in her downtime making a sort of synthetic drug that reboots a person’s psyche. She is also playing with generative AI to make art. Through all this, she works to protect her friend but she isn’t always as successful as she thinks she is. (My rating: 4/5)
I found “The Moon Rabbi” by David Ebenbach to be quite spiritual in a transcendent way. A rabbi prepares for and ultimately spends two week on a moon base in order to hold a seder supper. The story doesn’t go deep on religion but rather the awe and connection that spirituality implies. Everyone on the moon is thirsty for it. And it ultimately comes from the most unlikely place. (My rating: 4/5)
I never thought I would read a cross-species story of pregnancy, birth, and survival. But that is what Jana Bianchi has achieved with “. . . Your Little Light“. The story begins on a devastated space ship on which the protagonist is the only human survivor, accompanied by a giant creature of another species. And she is eight months pregnant. As she works to survive, she bonds with the creature in their joint struggle. I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll just say that while the story involves death as well as birth, it is touching and emotional while being surprisingly uplifting. (My rating: 4/5)
In a Chinese dystopia of surveillance and AI, two woman meet to catch up after twenty-five years apart. This is “To Helen” by Bella Han. A pill exists in this world that stops aging. Naturally some people can afford to take this early than others leaving them looking much younger. And this leads to great disparities of experience that play out across the interchange of these characters. (My rating: 3/5)
“Mirror View” by Rajeev Prasad is another story of interacting with extraterrestrials, though on a much smaller scale. Not everyone knows about this new visitor because it is metaloid rather that carbon based. It lands near Chicago and ultimately interacts with a newly pregnant woman. In the process, it learns what it means to reproduce and makes its own attempt to do so. (My rating: 4/5)
As usual with Clarkesworld, this is a strong showing, the average rating per story coming out to 3.875. I don’t expect to renew all of the magazine subscriptions I started as part of my year of short fiction, but Clarkesworld is a strong contender for renewal.