Note: This is the second review of a short story nominated for the 2017 Nebula Awards. You can see all the nominees here, and my earlier review of “This is Not a Wardrobe Door” by A. Merc Rustad here.
Sam J. Miller (and friend?)
So here’s the short version of “Things with Beards” by Sam J. Miller: Protagonist Jimmy (Jim?) McReady has returned to New York in the summer of 1983 after a mysterious end to his work at a research station in Antarctica. He meets an old friend who’s involved with an underground group bent on payback for the cops harassing and abusing blacks. McReady is gay and white, and he identifies with his friend’s political agenda despite his Irish family, some of whom are cops. During the course of the story McReady discovers that he and his friend Hugh are infected with what is called at that time — the “gay cancer”. He also intuits that he is inhabited by a monster of some sort that claims great stretches of his memory and also attacks and inhabits practically everyone with whom McReady comes into close contact.
No, this is not a novel. It’s a freaking short story. Continue reading
It’s been really hard for me to keep posting recently because I’ve been caught up with living, you know, and processing the political times we live in. Any time that I am too consumed with thoughts and actions in the here and now, my writing suffers, and because of my vow to never let the WIP work suffer, I had to leave the blog for a while. I’m not sure whether other writers (and readers) have this experience, but I am very conscious of how reality affects my thinking, my moods, and ultimately my writing. I am still wrestling with all of this turbulence, but I ran across a short story that inspired me to try writing something in second person point of view (POV) and, if you’re writing, you might find you want to try it, too.
There’s a fantastic little short story, only 2500 plus words, in Clarkesworld this month that inspired me both as a writer and a reader. “Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart” by Samantha Murray is a tender story of a mother reflecting on her firstborn child’s first year. The child’s development is spectacularly rapid. The reader realizes some unspecified deal has been struck between the mother and unseen authorities that has resulted in the birth of this child. There is a war. The world is threatened. The mother’s voice is laden with guilt, and love. Continue reading
This is the sixth and final review of the nominees in the short story category for the 2015 Nebula Awards. Spanish translation below is by Daniela Toulemonde.
“When Your Child Strays from God” by Sam J. Miller is set in some parallel universe where Dr. Seuss books, Barbie, the religious right and Dateline exist along with super, mind-altering drugs. People are taking hallucinogenic drugs that put them into something like a dream state where they can influence the hallucinations of other people. As someone who has grown up in the networked world might expect, this drug experience is called “webbing”. People who panic while on the drug results experience something akin to a psychotic breakdown that keeps them trapped in their hallucinations.
All of this is background for a story about a mother’s love for a wayward, teenage son and her strange trip toward forgiveness. Voicing the frustrations and fears of a middle-aged woman who decides to partake of the drug, Miller manages to not only make all of this totally believable, but makes Mom’s trip absolutely fun to read. Continue reading
This is the fourth review of the 2015 short story nominees for the Nebula Awards. Spanish translation below by Daniela Toulemonde.
“Today I am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker is the third Nebula nominated short story I’ve read this year where the main character is an AI and the story is told via first-person (ha!) narration by that AI. Who knows whether the popularity of this theme was mere chance or a reflection of the growing concern about the rise of the machines, but this AI story, like the other two, features a friendly, helpful intelligence.
In “Today I am Paul” we enter a near-future world where an embodied android provides medical support and care for an elderly woman who is losing her memory. The AI can change its appearance, depending on the degree of information downloaded about the person it’s trying to emulate. This is a comfort to the patient, Mildred, who is drifting in and out of the past and present, seeking out various loved ones to talk to. In the course of a day, the AI emulates Mildred’s son Paul, her deceased husband, her daughter in-law, and her granddaughter, but the number of people who could be emulated via the “emulation net” is limitless as long as data is available.
We are informed that this is a new feature for androids, as is this AI’s empathy subnet, which directs the AI to avoid upsetting Mildred and positively finding ways to comfort her. The two programming nets do not always calibrate. While the AI does a very convincing job of emulating her argumentative son, its empathy net warns the AI that Mildred’s anxiety is increasing, which requires the AI to resolve the competing directives. In this conflicted space, self awareness is born, and the android develops an understanding of its programming, analysis and actions that are separate from the roles it plays. Shoemaker does a good job in creating a character that is no character and any character, but what is specifically outstanding about the story is that it convincingly depicts how the AI’s consciousness seems to inevitably emerge from programming tension. Continue reading