In “Staying Behind,” by Ken Liu, the majority of the Earth’s population has uploaded their minds to a higher digital plane, leaving a bloody, battered body. The Uploaded, the dead, keep trying to steal the children of those who chose to stay behind.
This was one of the eeriest and most unsettling stories I’ve ever read. What I found utterly fascinating, and I don’t know if the author intended it to happen, was the fact that he showed a cultural change that I believe would happen if mass communication is no longer possible.
The internet, television, magazines, books, and radio allow ideas to travel like lightning all over the earth. Before mass communication, cultural change came much slower. Liu had the few teenage children left doing the same dances as their parents, which would happen if the kids had no way to be exposed to newer dance moves.
The voice was strong, the conflict compelling, and I absolutely loved it.
In “Pony,” by Erik Amundsen, a pirate attack leaves a space wrangler alone to tangle with his nemesis, Skull Pony.
Amundsen managed to do several things extremely well. I grew up on a ranch, and my father used to break wild horses as a young man. I’ve worked with horses my entire life, and Amundsen captured their behavior admirably, especially the personality of Skull Pony. His behavior reminded me very much of a mare I rode as a teenager.
As one reads, details that dribble in make you realize that the wrangler’s quarry is no ordinary herd. They way in which the ponies survive and reproduce is creepy and deepens the stakes for our space wrangler, and the final interaction between the wrangler and Skull Pony was fantastic and weirdly believable. Overall, it was a great, quirky read.
In “Silently and Very Fast, Part 1” by Catherynne M. Valente, Elefsis is a very old form of artificial intelligence that is passed from one family’s generation to the next. He longs to uplink to the rest of the world, but is forbidden by his current owner, Neva.
Valente’s story dances a very fine line between completely unworkable and brilliant. The prose is incredibly dense and has to be read with the fullest attention to avoid missing a tiniest critical detail. It frequently flashes to mythological stories that have no apparent connection to the plight of Elefsis. The other stories will be relevant eventually, as it is the first of three parts, but I think one will need to go back and re-read Part 1 when parts 2 and 3 are published in subsequent months.
There are fantastic moments in the story that define Elefsis’ relationship to Neva. She holds back a part of herself from Elefsis, and it hurts his feelings, rather, it causes a pre-programmed emotional response. The setting was rich and colorful, most of it taking place in a fantastical dreamworld.
The story has much promise, but it is difficult to know how much I liked it until I see the subsequent parts.