Short Story Review: “The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza

4 of 5 stars.

As robotics and artificial intelligence make huge advances, questions about the borders of humanity surface in science fiction. In this profoundly moving tale a military man merges his mind into the AI of the mech suit he pilots. He lives completely within the suit, never emerging. Does this make him more than mere man? Or less?

After a harrowing battle in which he took a lot of shrapnel, the pilot abandons his ordered post to see his little girl, Flora. It’s that familial connection that he craves–needs–more than any other. Flora doesn’t flinch upon recognizing the massive automaton stalking her path home from school. She’s familiar with the suit and the burden.

Meanwhile, the pilot can only express himself through the limited vocabulary of the mech. And memory gaps and glitches keep freezing him up and blocking his feeds . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Descender, Volume 3: Singularities by Jeff Lemire

Descender, Volume Three: SingularitiesDescender, Volume Three: Singularities by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fully realized sci-fi space drama beautifully realized by artist Dustin Nguyen cashes in on all of its previously offered potential with this excellent third installment. The first two volumes of this series centered on a 9-planet star system rife with humans and aliens 10 years after an unnatural apocalyptic event wasted large portions of the planets and populations. In that short-lived but huge event, planet-sized robots called Harvesters laid waste to carbon lifeforms. In its aftermath, the survivors declared genocide on all robots working and living within their interplanetary collective despite the lack of evidence that Harvesters and the system’s robots had any connection.

The story centers on a naive, pre-teenaged companion bot named Tim-22 that survived for the 10 years in a sleeplike charging state on an outer mining moon while the populous was evacuated during a poisonous gas leak. His human “brother,” Andy, evacuated, while his mother died on the moon. Tim-22 is wanted by both robot scrappers and the government for his potential link to the decade-old event.

The episode takes a smart step to the side. The component stories each tell the 10 year back story of many of the filler characters, and it’s fascinating. One could sense the richness of the world and its development beforehand, but now it’s laid out clearly and many characters have stepped up from being mere fillers. Expect the story to proceed forward again when the 4th installment comes out.

This series is highly recommended.

I’ve previously read and reviewed:
     Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon–4 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This brilliant, hefty tome and yet quick read turns the epistolary novel on its head by presenting a researched dossier submitted by the unnamed Illuminae about a sequence of shocking events in the far reaches of space. With a few “researcher notes” amending the files, the dossier contains intercepted memos and emails, dictations of video footage, interviews and AI internal processing.

Indubitably “Young Adult” with two teenaged heroes. Anti-authority, computer hacker Kady and her ex-boyfriend looking for a leader and a romantic reunion, Ezra, play the star-crossing ex-lovers hoping that their story can end less tragically than Romeo and Juliet’s. The tale is also “Sci-fi”, as everything takes place in a far stretch of the universe, first on an illegal mining outpost on an otherwise insignificant planet, and then later on spaceships crossing the void in order to reach a space station. The vastness of space and the loneliness therein are major themes, so too is the breakdown of civilization and order when outside of the view of the rest of humanity.

More interestingly, the subgenres of the novel defy expectation as they morph from one into another. Each holds its own quite convincingly taking the reader on a desperate ride. The first subgenre is militaristic as notions of business, government and military all roil uncleanly together. Then, an unreliable and independent AI abducts the plot. Finally, medical engineering of the nefarious, speculative sort surfaces turning the novel into a full-blown thriller.

The quick pace has the accelerator to the floor the entire time.

I absolutely recommend this is series opener and look forward to the sequels.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Spider the Artist” by Nnedi Okorafor

4 of 5 stars.

As protests over the rights of people versus the rights of oil pipelines grow more confrontational in the American Mid-West, this short story slides in with an imaginable future in which oil pipelines wend through villages and ecologically sensitive areas of Nigeria with disregard for the villagers. Artificially intelligent, large white cyber-spiders scurry up and down the pipelines fixing leaks and dismembering humans that get to close or tamper with the infrastructure.

The narrator toys with death when she routinely slips out of the hands of her abusive, alcoholic husband and hides in the long grass by the pipeline where she can watch the “spiders” and practice her guitar. One particular spider stops to observe the music making. Day after day. Then one day, it produces its own musical instrument . . .

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson

The Farthest CityThe Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much of the current divisive political climate echoes throughout this far-future sci-fi world. Dystopian ruling cultures have taken hold on multiple worlds in the galaxy and the ensuing conflicts are rapidly pushing planets toward an apocalyptic event horizon. And it’s not the first time it’s happened.

On Earth, humanity drove itself extinct in the biological and nuclear nightmare known as the Old War, or World War III. Their sentient AI survived them. The “Chines” evolved, expanded, and then restarted the human race from embryonic stock. After nurturing the humans and establishing them in mostly underground cities, the Chines abandoned eden to give the humans space and to create their own worlds deeper into the galaxy.

Interestingly and not inaccurately, for both humans and Chines, the other race is their mythic creator race. For humans, the promise of the Chines returning is their only hope when a hostile insectoid alien race arrives on Earth and threatens extinction of humans, again.

In alternating chapters, two separate and barely related storylines follow two distinct heroes and their very different responses to the threat on Earth.

Sheemi, a largely disgraced military grunt, is sent by her high ranking general father off-planet to find the new world of the Chines on a mission to obtain their help against the alien Hexi. Sheemi’s boredom in space leads to her sexual laxity and eventual, disgraceful pregnancy–all before finding hints of the Chines. The military space travel involves skirting parallel universes to make instantaneous deep space jumps.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Kellan is a living cultural myth–and not a liked one. “Special” humans emerge and are shunned in the new cities of Earth. Like a recessive gene or a latent computer program, some rare humans are born with the urge to either dig, tinker, draw or sing. The subject of their focus is always ancient Chines. Get the four together, and extraordinary doors and locks hidden across Earth open . . .

The breadth of the historic world-building is astounding. The fallibility of the protagonists is commendable. The novel is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “I Come From Future” by Darine Hotait

2 of 5 stars.

Existentialism emerged from French art and philosophy melding into a disassociative POV. A narrator may or may not be aware of the socio-cultural constraints which dictate one’s worldview.

This tale’s narrator, Ob short for “object”, knows that his world, Future, is very limited in scope and that other realities exist beyond the range of Future. What Ob cannot be sure of is whether he is awake or dreaming or lucid. But Ob’s confident that there are other ways and mindsets, or at the very least, past ones.

In an allegorical bent, all Obs [as every object is an Ob] have 3 cartons. One for one’s memories, one for current thoughts [These are highly regulated.], and one for goals [These are forbidden.]. All Obs, despite potential immortality, receive precisely timed terminations at which time the contents of Carton 1, the memories, are destroyed. Except that Ob remembers some things from before . . . or Ob is dreaming it . . .

This tale appears in the magazine Blindspot: Testing Reality, Issue #1 by the founders of Angle Mort. Their mission is to translate French science fiction into English to bridge the American and French science fiction communities. I received my copy of this issue directly from one of the editors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Viral Spark by Martin McConnell

Viral SparkViral Spark by Martin McConnell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For decades now, humans have deepened the abilities of artificial intelligence, and yet wondered what would happen if the AI gained sentience. Possibly bad things [2001, The Matrix] and possibly not [Wall-E, Star Trek]. The question is, are we ready to release the reins and to let the AI make its own decisions? Another growing trend is mankind’s reliance on our tech, sentient or not. Google tells us where to go and how to get there. It’s almost inconceivable that just 20-odd years ago, the internet wasn’t a thing, GPS wasn’t directing our movements, and cell phones weren’t constant companions.

This near future sci-fi novella, shows a world reliant on tech. Robots accomplish much labor, pads and screens provide information, entertainment and education, and neural implants sync one to one’s schedule, cell phone, pad and the world in general. And then everything starts glitching . . .

Robert is a technological wunderkind, able to code robots to his liking and unravel whatever’s not working. He’s also just about out of school and ready to carve out a nice niche for himself with his talents smoothing the way. And then his robots start glitching, and he knocks them back in line. Then his pad glitches, and his home screen system. Robert notices what others haven’t–a pattern emerging . . .

The scope of this tale is purposely restrained, hopefully because sequels are in the works. Otherwise, there are some pretty large, unexplained social practices and realities only partially flushed out in this world. One can only hope that as Robert graduates and moves out into the world, that larger world of the future starts to coalesce on the page.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

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