Clarkesworld is a monthly magazine with fantasy and science fiction content. Each issue contains at least two pieces of original fiction from new and established authors, and non-fiction texts that can include articles and interviews. In some issues you can find podcast versions of the stories too. Clarkesworld was first published in October 2006. So, if you don’t know it yet, you have a lot of material to dig into.
Below you will see reviews of Eric Brown and Jacques Barcia (Issue #49), and N.K. Jemisin and Genevieve Valentine (Issue #50).
“Laying the Ghost” – by Eric Brown
In this great futuristic short story, Brown tell us the story of Ed, a pilot, and his crew – co-pilot Karrie and an AI called Ella – all of them hired by Katerina for a trip to a distant planet. Katerina is a young girl of about twenty, who uses an advanced warware spacesuit. Although Brown uses the mystery around Katerina as a spice, the beauty behind “Laying the ghost” is its metaphor about life and impermanence.
From the beginning, when Karrie and Ed talk about Ella, Brown implies the theme that will permeate this story: what is a human being after all? Ella is “running on a self-aware paradigm” and developing feelings, just an upgrade, while Katerina believes in vitalism, a philosophy (or religion) that says it’s God that give us life, the energy spark we need to be human beings, which means that feelings are not enough to make Ella a human being. Brown subtly emphasizes these differences in the dialogues between Ed and Katerina, inserting them throughout the text, which is a great insight.
The ending was not a surprise for me, but in a story like this, I can’t resist the pun of saying that the trip is more important than the destination.
“Salvaging Gods” – by Jacques Barcia
“Salvaging Gods” tell us about a world where humans create their Gods, literally. We start with Gorette, the main character or, at least, the action catalyst, in a landfill, searching for pieces of broken gods. She wants to recycle them and make her own god. Like Brown, Barcia presents the subject that matters from the beginning, paving the way to a twist ending.
Generally, when an author uses a powerful object – whether an amulet, a ring or… a god statue – in his or her story, you already know that this object will run out of control bringing problems for its owner, but Barcia knew how to create different levels of understanding and use his voice to make it a richer experience. Jacques Barcia is the author who brought attention to the New Weird in Brazil. I don’t know if “Salvaging Gods” is a New Weird story, but it’s worth noting that Barcia can combine fantasy, science-fiction and horror elements to improve his text, crossing the border between genres. Thumbs up for him.
“On the Banks of the River Lex” – by N.K. Jemisin
Jemisin is the author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a book I’m a bit curious to read since I discovered it on the Web. So when I browsed the November issue of Clarkesworld and saw her name, it was my chance to read her work. I must confess that in the first paragraph I had to turn off my copyediting mind (I work as a copy editor for two Brazilian publishers) due to the water-water-water repetition, but it didn’t happen again. In fact, “On the Banks of the River Lex” has a lyric appeal that drew me in and I couldn’t put it down until the end.
While Death – one who suffers to fulfill his mission – walks through a city, we meet interesting characters in a world with some similarities to ours, but it’s just a shadow of what we were. It was easy reading and made me more curious about Jemisin’s romances. Can you imagine Death and an angel talking in a Starbucks? She can. As Death says at some point of the story: anything new is worth trying. So I think you should try this one.
“Seeing” – by Genevieve Valentine
“You can’t trust your eyes” is a key sentence in “Seeing” and a great tool to write fantasy and science fiction. Valentine plays with reader perceptions in her story – whether describing the meaning of the word “seeing” and its relationship to the story or telling us about the main character’s memories – which confused me at first. Call me a traditional reader, but I need something to latch on to when I start reading a text. It felt like being a ship wavering on the ocean, until the captain says: land ho! Even so, I was curious to understand what’s going on with Marika, the main character. So Marika is on a trip to a planet orbiting Gliese 581, a red dwarf star. It probably has water, a crucial resource in future Earth. All space trips have their problems, and this one is no exception, so Marika and the crew have to deal with them in the final third of the story to save their mission. Even thought I wasn’t captivated by the internal turmoils of Marika, the phrasing of Valentine makes for enjoyable reading, compensating the confusing parts of her story. Or maybe I should read it again and avoid trusting my eyes.