Sunday, April 27, 2014

On "Always the Same Dream" by Andy Mozina (1961 words) ****

This piece reminds me a bit of Mike Birbiglia's work, perhaps because it has to do with sleep, and because sleep dysfunctions had a major role in Birbiglia's movie, I tend to associate them together. The story also has the kind of kooky humor that Birbiglia has as well. A man with a brain dysfunction has repeated dreams--strange ones at that. The stories worth reading just for those. Check them out here at Diagram.

On "Return from the Stars" by Stanislaw Lem *****

I think of Lem as the author of Solaris, and as such (because of the movies), I think of him as the writer of slow theme-heavy, deep-thinking science fiction, even though until now I had never read him. But the novel, as written here, fits within those preconceptions--perhaps, not quite as slow as the Solaris movies but certainly not heavy on plot.

Hal Bregg has returned from a mission into the nether regions of the galaxy, one that tried the limits of human ability (to become a pilot for the mission, he had to undergo a series of tests that involved severe isolation, including one in which an astronaut is left untethered and away from any spacecraft or station in a spacesuit in the middle of space for an undetermined amount of time; most men go crazy). As such, while he has aged only a few years (he's now in his forties), the earth he returns to has aged 150 years--and it is very different, so different that the return of those on his mission is barely mentioned in media reports. Technology has far outstripped Bregg's period, and interest in the stars has fallen by the wayside.

The first hundred pages or so of this book involve mostly Bregg's exploration of this new earth, a place that is a technological utopia. Cities are built on levels stretching to the sky, with television screens standing in for the outdoors. Gravity has been conquered, allowing crafts to be built that, even if they manage to crash, are perfectly suited to keeping anything inside from being damaged. Robots have taken over doing most daily tasks, leaving humans to relax or to oversee the overseeing robots. Life-time marriage has been replaced by temporal contracts that can be renewed for periods of time. But most important, man's baser instincts have been conquered through a medical procedure that removes aggression from the human body. There are no more wars, no more violent crimes--but neither is there much in the way of desire to explore other worlds or to accomplish feats no one else has ever achieved. Fear grips man as much as sheer apathy.

In this sense, Bregg is confronted with a different vision of life, one he does not initially like. Is the cost of conquering human passion worth the loss of that passion? What's more, what was the value of Bregg's journey to the stars if no one appreciates it now, and if technology itself has now made trips like Bregg's conceptually utterly easy to accomplish (even if no one has an interest in pursuing them)?

In time, Bregg meets up with a crew member for a little boxing match (boxing being an aggressive sport no one has any interest in now, other than those who have not gone through the medical procedure). He meets a woman for whom he develops quick feelings, and he marries her. And finally, he meets another old crew member and learns that in fact another trip to the stars is being planned. Will Bregg go?

The world has rubbed off on Bregg, and he's come to see exploration as pointless. But his faith in it seems to be somewhat restored by his old colleague, who denotes that man's need to explore is not based on what riches he will bring back from his voyage (did the antarctic explorers expect to find gold at the South Pole?) but on the need to accomplish grand feats and to know what is out there. Were the universe a big black blank instead of a place full of stars and alternate worlds, men would still go into the blackness to see what was there. And Bregg, taking a walk afterward, seems to recognize again that sense of wonder he had as a child.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On "Clínica Tikal" by Vanessa Blakeslee (5921 words) ***

I'm not much into pure science fiction, but this Blakeslee's piece does such a good job of telling a story that I felt it worthy to share here. We start in Latin America, with a woman who visits a soothsayer regularly. This woman is told that she has a cyst that must be removed immediately if she is to ever have children. She is to go, not to the best doctors in Guatemala, and not to New York City. She is to go rather to a mysterious place that the soothsayer writes out for her on the card. The place, as we find out (as we in fact expect), turns out to be much more than a great medical establishment. Read the story here at Ascent.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

On "Always the Same. Till it is Not." by Cecil Castellucci (1796 words) ***

Here's a tale that essentially mimics evolution in its style. We read as a person moves from merely caring about moving and eating to the deeper things in life. Or should one say that he evolves? Of course, being part of Apex Magazine, the tale is so simple as that. There's some kind of other worldly problem going on here. Read it here at Apex.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On "Make Do" by Molly Laich (3604 words) ****

To be young and too early focused on serious things is to scrap it all and return to some highly questionable activities. Nathan Barnes isn't doing drugs, but it seems that he wants to be. He might have a hot girlfriend and live in a nice place, but he misses the sketchy times of his past. Old times call. I love how this piece is so nonchalant about everything. It's like we're hanging out with the weirdos ourselves, and then, the big moment arrives, and we're in there too, wondering what will happen, excited not to know. Read the story here at Corium.

Friday, April 11, 2014

On "Would You Rather" by James Zerndt (4685 words) ***

Swink isn't a place I go to for science fiction, but here it is, a piece of sci-fi residing in a literary magazine. The nation is short on water, and residents spy on one another to ensure that they aren't absconding with more than their share or overusing electricity. Thomas and Dustin are brothers who serve as cops of a sort, checking on those around them. And like most residents, they're hypocrits of a sort. Thomas likes a gal named Jerusha, who he doesn't report for numerous violations for exactly that reason. Thomas and Dustin are the recipients of extra rations, because their parents aren't around, and they haven't reported the surplus. All comes to a head at the end of the story in a way that makes one wonder if any kind of nobility matters at all. Read the story here at Swink.

Monday, April 7, 2014

On “Rubbernecking” by Leah Thomas (2513 words) ****

Years ago I read a book about a family of dead people written by someone who had once been in a writing group with me. It's a hard gimmick to pull off, and for the first half of that novel, she did so. Thomas here works the same kind of magic. This time, it's just one dead person, and for a while, we're not sure if she's pulling an "I see dead people" shtick reminiscent of The Sixth Sense or if there's something else going on. The dead boy here could stand in for all kinds of things--survivor guilt, perhaps chief among them. Read the story here at Ideomancer.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

On "A Sensitive Soul" by Andrew Coburn (8120 words) ***

Coburn's story deals with life, death, God, reasons for living, birth--just a few small things like that. The overall arch of the story is the most fascinating part, what kept me reading on for the whole thing. Frances and Amy are best friends sharing a drink on the balcony of their condo when Amy gets a phone call. It's her husband. Her husband has been dead for some time. The tale then jumps back in time--or maybe forward, since Coburn doesn't tell us, so we're not sure exactly what is going on. We get a tale about the husband Dennis, his time in the army. We learn, eventually, how Amy and Dennis met. Meanwhile, we get a set of opposites: Amy the churchgoer, the beauty who doesn't eat, and who can't find love because men are superficial; Frances, the intellectual who loves food, doesn't believe in God, and who can't find love because men are superficial. They're both in love with sensitive souls: Frances with Nietzsche, Amy with Dennis. Within all these opposites is everything--and like the far right and the far left of the political spectrum, the opposites make a full circle to meet again, at the same place. Originally published at the Arch, read the story here at Scribd.