The issue starts strong with “Stones” by Nnedi Okorafor. A creature “born” on a comet explores the universe for millennia before encountering humans. A tale of alien life learning and exploring and finding out that humans are fearful creatures who respond with violence. And finding one who responds with kindness and care. (My rating: 4/5)
Next up is “The Queen of Calligraphic Susurrations” by D.A. Xiaoline Spires. A calligrapher uses an AI-driven digital brush to write a story for submission that is refused for using AI despite the AI only assisting. Interesting in the way it approaches the dilemma of where AI-written is different from AI-assisted. I didn’t care for the writing style. It felt flowery and poetic in a way that didn’t add to the story but instead bogged it down. (My rating: 3/5)
In “A Guide to Matchmaking on Station 9“, an empathic Jewish matchmaker with synesthesia living on a space station consults her ex-lover while making a few final matches before joining her daughter and newborn granddaughter on another space station. Nika Murphy’s story is rich with so many layers for its brevity. Subtle. Much is explored without coming right out and saying it. This story really sank into me. (My rating: 5/5)
The longest story in the issue is “Axiom of Dreams” by Arula Ratnakar. A young woman explores her dreams in an attempt to solve a complex math problem to get into a PhD program. Very math-y in a way that may not be for everyone. A fascinating exploration of the nature of reality. (My rating: 4/5)
The most disappointing story for me was “The People from the Dead Whale” by Djuna, translated from Korean by Jihyun Park and Gord Seller. It takes place on a tidally locked planet that humans have colonized. They live on “whales” in the ocean between the scorching hot Day and freezing cold Night sides of the planet. A tribe of refugees from a dead “whale” seeks a new home. It’s a very interesting world. This story is more of a tease or an introduction to even more. I’d be interested in more stories in this setting. (My rating: 3/5)
In “The Five Remembrance, According to STE-319” by R.L. Meza, a dying robot built to kill rescues a small girl on a battlefield. The remembrances are essentially statements that would only apply to humans, but yet are demonstrated by the robot. A critique of war, it is told from the perspective of the robot. (My rating: 4/5)
The issue concludes with an emotional bang with “Upgrade Day” by RJ Taylor. A person who sold their after life for a successful first life struggles as a post-human robot that is slowly growing obsolete. His owners can’t afford to keep upgrading him. They offer to do the unthinkable while he stays on to care for the girl as she grows up. A poignant tale of sacrifice and dedication and learning the costs of our decisions. (My rating: 5/5)
Overall, my rating for this issue is 4 our of five stars. Clarkesworld seems to have consistently excellent stories. I always look forward to each issue.