Sci-Fi Short Story Review Bites

22578294Glitch by Hugh Howey

“I remember holding Sarah for the first time, marveling at this ability we have to create life where before there was none.” 

In a world that craves the brutality that come with robot bouts (basically brutal cage fights between robots), Sam, Peter, and Greenie investigate why their prize fighter, Max, refuses to obey their orders. Their future depends on him being combat ready since these bouts seem to determine what contracts they land with various companies who want the best tech their money can buy. However, Max refuses to comply with their orders. Is it a glitch or is it pointing to something more?

This story seems to be a hail to stories like Asimov’s I, Robot, and much of the story is a matter of philosophical debate where Max is concerned. However brief, you still get some sense of who the characters are, particularly Samantha, and because the story is told from Sam’s point-of-view, you see how her experiences, especially her motherly feelings, which I related to so much, shaped her feelings for Max and what she feels must happen now.

Much of the story puts a more human slant on robots, describing the thirst for violence the spectators have and the viciousness of these fight in terms that makes you feel sorry for the combatants, even though they’re only machines. A scene with Max brings to mind a fighter whose instincts have kicked into survival mode, making him hard to bring back to reality once the threat is over:

As I looked over Max, his wounds and welds provide a play-by-play of his last brutal fight–one of the most violent I’ve ever seen […] Max had to drag himself across the arena with the one arm he had left before pummeling his incapacitated opponent into metal shavings. When the victory gun sounded, we had to do a remote kill to shut him down. The way he was twitching, someone would’ve gotten hurt trying to get close enough to shout over the screeches of grinding and twisting metal. The slick of oil from that bout took two hours to mop up before the next one could start.

This was an overall excellent story, and my first real taste of Hugh Howey. I have other books of his on my reading pile, but I took a chance with this one because it would be a quick read.

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24439769A Whimper by Will Swardstrom

“Thomas was wrong. The human race didn’t rage against anything in the end.”

Sometime in the near future, a future where Jennifer Lawrence may or may not sill be alive, humanity is on the verge of extinction. Technological advances have gone beyond smartphones and even smart glasses. 99% of the world has had Personal Chips, known as PIPs, implemented into their brains which gives them the power of the internet right in their head. Many of these people have had them since birth. However, a price comes with something so invasive as the PIPs, including your expected government invasion veiled under “safety” measures, but other moral and technical complications arise as well with the invention of the PIP.

A whimper is a cautionary tale. It’s not just a “technology gone bad” story, but one that warns of human complacency as well. With the rise of technology, there’s less empathy in the narrator’s world. If it’s not a Facebook notification or a retweet, what does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? If something doesn’t have a “use” technologically speaking, then when it disappears, even in the most violent of ways, it’s seen as a tragedy, but not a loss. This includes human lives as well.

The technology itself doesn’t turn on its users, per se. This isn’t a rise of the machines type story. The chips don’t suddenly become these sentient parasites living in their brains. Human manipulation, the need to create better and better technology, the (supposed) need to help third-world countries catch up with the rest of the world, is what taints the technology, the need to institute so-called pragmatic safety measures, is what eventually corrupts the technology. Competing “apps” eventually just cause people to shut down completely, leaving them aware but unable to do anything to survive.

In the beginning, this story is told with a sort of cool detachment from the narrator as he makes blasé statements like: “I haven’t heard from Kit in over a year. I think she’s dead.” Kit is his sister. He continues to narrate the fall, and as the story goes on more and more emotion begins to show through in his words. At first, I didn’t think I’d rate this as high as I did, but there’s was something in those last few pages and his desperate plea that made me rate it higher.

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oldequationsThe Old Equations by Jake Kerr

Let’s get the science-y portion of the review out the way before I review this novelette, and I’m trying to simplify this as much as I can, so you get a general idea. The basis of this story builds on the idea that Albert Einstein died before he could put forth and advocate his complete theory of relativity. Because of this, in the year 2193, he’s considered a minor thinker who had ideas that stimulated scientific thought, but didn’t challenge thought. Some people even consider Einstein a bit of a crackpot. (Nerd note: Einstein’s teacher, Hermann Minkowski, actually put forth the theory and Einstein built on it.)

You’re asking: “What’s the point, Tiara?” The point, my friends, is this. Without the theory of relativity, you don’t get space-time continuum. Without space-time continuum, you don’t get the theory that time slows for people as they approach the speed of light. That means, without the theory of relativity, a person wouldn’t be aware that time is progressing much, much slower for them in space than it is on earth because they’re traveling at such an immense speed. For a rough example without any mathematical basis and just to give a general working idea, 8 hours on earth would be only 1 hour for a person moving in space. This is also touched on in the story just not in as much detail as I gave you.

This short story follows an astronaut known as James as he embarks on a 10 year space voyage. The story is told through a series of transmissions over about a year or so between James, his wife (Kate), and a few of his coworkers. In the beginning, they keep their transmissions limited so they don’t stress the communication links. However, as the story goes on, the realization that James is losing time as time progresses normally on earth becomes a pressing matter. They revisit Einstein’s old theories and figure out that the mission will only take James 5 years, but 41 years will have progressed on earth by that time. They refuse to about mission.

It’s funny to think a story like this one would be so utterly heartbreaking, but it is. James and Kate begin this story with Kate trying to reassure herself that 10 years would be no time. However, even in James’ first year away from earth, he managed to miss so much life as seen when Kate updates him on their friends and family. They believe they’d get to live all the life James missed once he returned, but then, science happens. I actually teared up a little bit reading this as James and Kate tried to exchange their last messages to one another on a communication system that had been giving them problems since the beginning of the mission and was rapidly breaking down.

There’s just so much going on emotionally in this little story that hits hard and fast. Kate’s desperate need to “see” James’ words while he reassures her that he’ll always love her no matter what, that he’ll still want to hold her and be with her despite the fact that he’ll only be in his mid-thirties and she’d be nearing her 70s when he returns. The grim explanations from his coworkers on what was happening and how he’d just become a sort of focus point for this “new theory.”

My main problems come from the science part of the story and having a little trouble suspending belief where it’s concerned. While Einstein’s early death certainly presents an interesting conundrum, I don’t know if I can truly believe that no one at all in the scientific community couldn’t have come up with the theory by 2193, especially working on the fact that that theory wasn’t Einstein’s in totality and apparently, there was enough data out there on it for someone to have expounded upon earlier.

Also, it’s a little unclear whether space travel, even short space travel, has happened before this point. I’m going to assume it hasn’t since they still haven’t figured out time-space continuum, and it seems like, if space had been traveled even briefly before this point in the story, they’d have some working idea that something was going on with the time stream before sending James into space.

Despite that, this is one of those stories that will stay on my mind for quite a while as I contemplate James and Kate’s future. Can you even begin to imagine coming home after spending 5 years in space to an earth that has aged 41 years in your absence?

I read this through Kindle Unlimited, but it’s available to read for free on Lightspeed Magazine‘s website here.

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6 Comments on “Sci-Fi Short Story Review Bites”

    • I did, too, and I’ve actually owned Wool forever, but I still haven’t read it. This was recommended to me on Kindle Unlimited. I liked the description, so I tried it out. Since reading this, I’ve tried out his short story Second Suicide and The Walk Up Nameless Ridge. They’ve all been good, even if I felt that Second Suicide would’ve probably benefited best by being a novel, but out of those three, this one has been the best (followed closely by The Walk Up Nameless Ridge).

      Like

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