Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 136 (January 2018)

A solid issue from cover to cover,  with the original stories tied thematically by the concept of memory, both personal and cultural. There are also classic reprints by James Tiptree, Jr. and Michael Swanwick, and among the non-fiction there is an interview with Sue Burke, author of the much buzzed-about, forthcoming novel Semiosis.
A World to Die For, by Tobias S. Buckell
I’m not a big fan of crossbreeding titles to describe a story’s premise, but this is literally “Sliders meets Mad Max.” Chenra leads a hunting party in a “post-Collapse” North America where climate disaster has made the air too toxic to breathe. When a rival party comes looking for her, she discovers that there are multiple timelines – some worse than her own, others better – that can be traversed, and that another version of herself is an important figure in at least one of them. Buckell’s hardened, scaly prose is especially suited for this kind of story, and he has a gift for building instantly relatable characters and making familiar tropes feel fresh. This is an entertaining, action-packed eco-thriller, even if it gradually grows more ponderous as it moves along. Told in the second person, for explainable but not entirely necessary reasons.
Say it Low, then Loud, by Osahon Ize-Iyamu
Efosa works for his planet’s military, assisting them in fighting an endless war (or, perhaps, a series of wars), a fact that puts him at odds with his pacifist family. He feels that his individual success at work may depend on learning the “cultural secrets” that his family is withholding from him. There is more explication than action in this story, and it is written in an unusual, mathematical/linguistic style that didn’t quite catch on for me. Still, relative newcomer Ize-Iyamu packs his story with plenty of ideas to chew on, and Efosa’s internal struggle is involving.
Sour Milk Girls, by Erin Roberts
Ghost is a teenage foster, one of the “third-floors” at the Agency, an orphanage where the charges have the memories of their prior lives temporarily removed until they age out. The new girl, Princess, arrives on the third floor with memories intact, and Ghost wants to know why. Ghost’s remarkable voice, which renders the peculiar culture and environment of the third floor in bitter, wary terms, is the story’s big selling point. The other girls are given unique voices as well, while also speaking in a common vernacular that emphasizes the close-knit, if conflict-ridden, community among the fosters. A steady and engrossing tale, that meets a stinging but poignant end. – Recommended
A Cigarette Burn In Your Memory, by Bo Balder
This story from Dutch author Balder has the kind of irony-laden premise that would make a good fit as an episode of The Twilight Zone: Gouda is a private eye who works to reunite separated family members as an epidemic of memory loss sweeps the world. Narratives in general are memory-dependent, as is the occupation of this story’s protagonist; the presence of memory is taken for granted in most stories – here, its absence cannot help but highlight the advantage of those (like us, as readers) who can utilize it. The “secret” of the memory loss plague is obvious to us, but escapes Gouda, no matter how diligently she tries to hang on to clues and piece them together with the tools at her disposal. Very bleak, but effective and moving. – Recommended
The Lighthouse Girl, by Bao Shu (trans. Andy Dudak)
At the start of The Lighthouse Girl, Ling Rourou is a seven-year-old girl raised in China, who inexplicably has memories of being a Chinese-American girl named Jessica. Then an American-born teacher comes along and, impossibly, recognizes Rourou as a lookalike of her childhood friend, also named Jessica. Rourou’s father, Ling Dong, is hesitant to discuss Rourou’s mother, but when he does, Rourou discovers she is also a spitting image of the woman. I know what you’re thinking. So does the author, who keeps us thinking it until everything goes all 80s Cronenberg and he flips the script. An outrageous premise that gets more and more ridiculous with each turn of the page, but damn if it isn’t entertaining as hell. – Recommended

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