Saturday, October 29, 2011

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: "Run," Bakri Says by Ferrett Steinmetz

Asimov's December 2011 My Story Recommendation of the Week is for "'Run,' Bakri Says" by Ferrett Steinmetz, from the December 2011 issue of Asimov's. This is Steinmetz's second SROTW.

Authors have been writing stories inspired by video games since I first began reading science fiction in the 1970's, and for far longer than that they've been writing fiction to illustrate the dehumanizing effects of war. Yet in "'Run,' Bakri Says," Ferrett Steinmetz manages to do both in an original and powerful way.

In an unnamed battlefield in the War on Terror, Irena is desperate to rescue her brother, captured by American soldiers, before he reveals to them what he has invented. She uses the invention to try to save him, but its effects are not predictable. The inexorable progression of the rescue attempt is both poignant and disturbing.

I don't want to reveal the way the brother's invention works, for fear of spoiling how the story unfolds, but I will say it involves a subtle form of time travel. And so I'm most annoyed the story came out at the same time as my story Random Fire, thus entirely overshadowing my own attempt at writing a fresh time travel story.

"'Run,' Bakri Says" is not a pleasant story to read, but you'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Story Published :: Random Fire at Abyss & Apex

Illustration for Random FireForgive a moment of self-promotion, but I have a new story called Random Fire just posted in the 4th Quarter 2011 issue of Abyss & Apex. This story has a rather unusual structural element to it, but one you might miss if you read quickly. I am very anxious to learn how many readers catch the gimmick, and what they think of it.

This is my fourth published story, with two more forthcoming. It's making me feel almost like an actual writer. Heck, I even have a perfunctory author page. Man, I better go write something . . .

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Ray of Light by Brad R. Torgersen

Analog December 2011An alarming trend over the past few years has been the dismal tone of most new science fiction. Gene Roddenberry credited the success of Star Trek to the fact that it offered viewers hope for the future. While there is plenty of excellent new science fiction today, not much of it is very hopeful. It's as if a few years' economic slowdown has defeated our collective abilities to imagine a better future.

My story recommendation of the week is for "Ray of Light" by Brad R. Torgersen, from the December 2011 issue of Analog (cover art by Bob Eggleton), which lives up to its title, a ray of light in the gloominess of 21st Century science fiction.

"Ray of Light" starts out well within the parameters of the dark style currently in vogue. The story is set some twenty years after aliens entered our solar system and scattered a cloud of small mirrors inside the Earth's orbit, depriving our world of most of the sun's light. Max Leighton and his teenage daughter Jenna are two of the small group of remaining humans, struggling to survive at the bottom of the frozen oceans. Early on, Max flashes back to when Jenna was four and asked why they didn't live where it's dry and sunny like the characters on Chloe and Joey, her favorite pre-catastophe kids' show:
People were dying all over the world when NASA and the Navy began deploying the deepwater stations. The Russians and Chinese, the Indians, all began doing the same. There was heat at the boundaries between tectonic plates. Life had learned to survive without the Sun near hydrothermal vents. Humans would have to learn to live there too.

And we did, after a fashion.

I explained this as best as I could to my daughter.

She grew very sad, a tiny, perplexed frown on her face.

"I don't want to watch Chloe and Joey anymore," she said softly.
Max and the other adults in this deep-water society work hard to keep everyone alive, but in their hearts they have lost hope for the future. Jenna and her young friends will need to teach them (and us) a lesson about maintaining the determination to reach for a better tomorrow. It makes for a moving reading experience.

I had the pleasure of meeting Brad Torgersen at the Writers of the Future workshop -- he was a winner the year before with his excellent story "Exanastasis," which you can find in Writers of the Future, Vol. XXVI. Brad is a Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, and looked sharp in his dress uniform at the WOTF ceremony. Since winning WOTF, he has become a regular in Analog. His story "Outbound" was the AnLab winner as Analog readers' favorite novelette of 2010, and I certainly won't be surprised if "Ray of Light" makes him a repeat winner.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: In Apprehension, How Like a God by R.P.L. Johnson

My story recommendation of the week is for "In Apprehension, How Like a God" by R.P.L. Johnson, the third SROTW I'm permitting myself from Writers of the Future, Vol. XXVII. The gorgeous illustration is by Dustin Panzino, reproduced here with his kind permission.

"In Apprehension, How Like a God" was this year's WOTF Gold Award winner, and a most worthy champion. (But not necessarily the only story that would have been worthy -- I'm glad I didn't have to vote on that.)

The story is set in a future where the internet has been superseded by the aethernet, which allows everyone to see images and information superimposed over everything around us using the Higgs field, a quantum field permeating the universe. (The Higgs field is a real physics concept, but not yet known to have all the properties described in this story.) Our protagonist, Detective Conroy, must investigate a murder at the monastic "Academy" in Uganda, home of the AI "nodes" that superimpose all that information onto the Higgs field. Conroy soon learns that the Academy is working on improving the nodes so they can "read" the Higgs field as well as "write" onto it:
Now I was the one feeling sick. "You're describing a machine that's as close to omniscient as makes no difference."

"Omniscient," the Arch-Mage weighed the ancient word. "I suppose so, within certain practical parameters of storage, processing capacity and power consumption. But in any case the project is at an early stage."
Hopefully it's not giving too much away to say that the murder relates to someone's attempt to gain control of the aethernet, control that would give you the power to change the reality being experienced by anyone you choose. The savvy reader can guess that Detective Conroy will be subject to such a reality shift, which not only makes his job difficult, but also proves an effective metaphor for his personal turmoil since the death of his daughter.

"In Apprehension, How Like a God" (the title is from Hamlet) is a great example of effective post-cyberpunk science fiction. It has all the interesting techy speculations of a future where we simultaneously co-inhabit the real world and a consensually visualized virtual world. But at the same time it is a strong story on an emotional level, with none of the coldness or smartassery that pervaded much of the original cyberpunk subgenre.

In addition to Writers of the Future XXVII, Richard Johnson has appeared at AlienSkin Magazine -- you can find that story here -- and he has another story forthcoming at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, with hopefully many more to follow.

Let me conclude by emphasizing one more time, all of the WOTF27 winners are excellent. For purposes of SROTW, I've limited myself to three stories that especially spoke to me personally, but another reader might as easily have three different favorites. I read quite a bit of short fiction, and I keep a running list of my favorites of the year. So far I've read well over 100 pieces of short fiction published in 2011, and most of the WOTF27 winners are currently on either my top ten novelette list or my top ten short story list. That's some high-quality writing, and I am proud to be in a table of contents with every one of the other winners.