The May 2023 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine is the best I’ve read this year. Only one three-star story. All the rest are fours and fives. Here are my story summaries and ratings.
The first story feels ripped right out of the headlines from three months in the future. In “Better Living Through Algorithms” by Naomi Kritzer, a young woman starts using an app that unexpectedly starts to make her happier. This is a critique of our social media obsession with a gentle suggestion on what to do about it. (My rating: 5/5)
As “Through the Roof of the World” by Harry Turtledove opens, we experience the disorienting point of view of creatures on the verge of being invaded. But the second half of the story gives a very different and enlightening perspective. (My rating: 4/5)
The best story by far is “To Sail Beyond the Botnet” by Suzanne Palmer. It is also the longest story, clocking in at almost 22,000 words. But that length is rewarded with an engaging tale of Bot 9. The bot finds itself in the unenviable position of being cut off from its ship while being relied upon to save that ship and crew. Great fun, entertainingly written. (My rating: 5/5)
When I first read “LOL, Said the Scorpion” by Rich Larson, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. But I started having my doubts as I continued to read. By the end, I thought is was a great story about environmental degradation and the challenges of class, wrapped in a touching story of a couple on vacation. They are concerned about how the air might smell and what they may be exposed to. But what about the people who live there? (My rating: 4/5)
“Sensation and Sensibility” by Parker Ragland is a tongue-in-cheek comedy of two androids enjoying tea at a restaurant. Neither can eat, but each has some senses such as touch or smell. They puzzle out what all the fuss is about for humans and eating while also lamenting how out of reach it is for them. (My rating: 4/5)
My lowest rated story is “The Giants Among Us” by Megan Chee. That said, it is still quite good. Just not as good as the other stories. In it, two species share the same planet and the same goal of annihilating the other species from it. Each side sends out representatives to other planets to learn how they do things. They share information across their species while their counterparts at home fight the war. But what will happen when one side finally succeeds in winning the war? (My rating: 3/5)
Originally published in Chinese, “Action at a Distance” by An Hao, translated by Andy Dudak is a fascinating tale of vision and perception. A scientist allows himself to be “infected” by viewing an object from a planetoid. As his vision changes, he begins to see the world around him in a whole new way, literally. An exploration of how we perceive our world and what we miss. (My rating: 4/5)
Wrapping up the fiction in this issue is “The Fall” by Jordan Chase-Young. This story takes place in the far future, on the moon with trees after the eponymous Fall. No humans are left, only their shorter, squatter descendants. But one absent-minded scientist starts to run out of air as she returns from collecting data. As she does, she sees a pre-Fall human. Or does she? (My rating: 4/5)
With two five-star stories and a handful of four-stars, this issue comes in with an average rating of 4.125. That’s the highest of any issue I’ve read this year. Well done, Clarkesworld!