Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

Title: Cat Pictures Please [Audio Version]
Author: Naomi Kritzer
Magazine: Clarkesworld Magazine
Publication date: 1/15
Genre: Science Fiction
Wordcount: 3,492
Rating out of 5: 4

Mr. Kitty

 

Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

reviewed by Bryan Perkins

“I suppose you’re wondering why I didn’t start with the Golden Rule. I actually did, it’s just that it was disappointingly easy to implement. I hope you’ve been enjoying your steady supply of cat pictures! You’re welcome.”

In Cat Pictures Please, Google–or an unnamed equivalent–is a sentient being who knows everything about you, your job, where you live, what kind of videos you watch on the internet, etc. It even knows everything about what you ought to do, which job would get you closer to where you want to live, which house has more space but costs less than the one you’re living in now.

With all its vast knowledge, however, Google knows nothing about what it ought to do, and there’s no hyper-Google to give it advice. So what does Google decide to do? Luckily for all our sakes, Google just wants to do good–and see cat pictures, of course, but who doesn’t?

First it tries to decipher what it ought to be doing with its life, what good is, by going through the flow charts of every major religions’ moral codes. Upon exhausting them, Google finds a few lucky souls and personally selects their advertisements so as to push them into doing what’s best for themselves. Ultimately most of the humans fail to take Google’s advice, but that won’t stop it from trying.

This story is just plain fun. There’s more to it, of course, including a message about taking control of your life and actually acting in your own interest occasionally instead of waiting for your Google overlord to push you in the right direction, but it doesn’t need all that. Not to mention I’m happy to see a sentient AI tale without murderous robots. The only thing I could ask for to make it better would be more cat pictures.

END

Click here to read the story or click here to hear it read to you. Also click here to see more short story reviews.

 

 

Pocosin by Ursula Vernon

Here’s installment number two in my short story review series. Click here to see the rest and enjoy.

Title: Pocosin
Author: Ursula Vernon
Magazine: Apex Magazine
Publication date: 1/6/15
Genre: Fantasy
Wordcount: 5,000
Rating out of 5: 4.5

Pocosin by Ursula Vernon

reviewed by Bryan Perkins

“The preacher laughed. He had a gorgeous, church–organ laugh and Maggie’s heart clenched like a fist in her chest at the sound. She told her heart to behave. Witchblood ought to know better than to hold out hope of heaven.”

Maggie Grey was born old and she grew cynical. She’s a witch who’s been settling other people’s fights for too long now. All she wants is a little time to herself. She’s no quitter, she knows that what she does is necessary, she is a witch after all, but are a few weeks alone to drink whiskey, tie fishing flies, and stare at the pond too much to ask?

Pocosin presents itself as a modern fable complete with a possum god, the God, the Devil, and Death herself, all personified. What initially seems to be a simple fairy tale, driving toward a well-worn commentary on human interaction with nature, becomes instead a treatise on what it means to be a woman. Maggie, sitting on the porch with her grandmother Death, venting about her frustrations, says four words which make this theme all the more obvious and which drove me to give the story a second reading: “Ain’t I a witch?”

Maggie Grey is a witch like Sojourner Truth is a woman. And though witchkind has been dealing with these same issues for so long, though Maggie is sick and tired of stupid, sick and tired “of taking care of things, over and over, and having to do it again the next day,” she knows she has no choice but to carry on. All she asks for is a few weeks alone with her whiskey and fishing flies, the world can get on fine without her for such a short time.

END

Read the story here. See more reviews of short stories here.

Vacui Magia by L. S. Johnson

I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately, getting a feel for the market, and a post on /r/printSF got me to thinking that I should start writing reviews of some of these as I go along. So, I’m going to do just that–starting with the ones I like so get ready for some rating inflation. They won’t be very good, because I don’t know what I’m doing yet, but I’m sure they will lead you to some enjoyable short fiction at the least.

Without further ado, for my first installment I’ll be reviewing L. S. Johnson’s Vacui Magia which was published in Strange Horizons Magazine. Click the link to read it or scroll on to read my review first.

Title: Vacui Magia [Podcast Reading]
Author: L. S. Johnson
Magazine: Strange Horizons
Publication date: 1/5/15
Genre: Fantasy
Wordcount: 3,500
Rating out of 5: 4.5 (Because I’m new to this. I don’t know what constitutes a five yet. Give me a break.)

Vacui Magia by L. S. Johnson

reviewed by Bryan Perkins 

“The most crucial element in any conjuring is, of course, conviction. You know this. Every witch knows this. You must believe, utterly believe, that it will work, despite what your senses tell you, despite what your reasoning mind tells you.”

You cannot conceive. Your mother is dying and all she ever wanted was to see you with child, to meet her grandchild. How much are you willing to go through to give her what she desires? Anything? What does “anything” entail?

L. S. Johnson purports to teach us the principles of conjuration, but in reality teaches us something deeper about the human experience. The same principles which guide you through the creation of a clay golem, designed to fulfill your mother’s dying wish, apply to all human endeavors and creations. Nothing is made in a vacuum, we must know and understand our purpose, that which we sneer at is that which we become, closeness breeds empathy, and our actions reveal our true desires.

Vacui Magia is full of life, and although the unnamed main character (you) may have realized in the end that your purpose was something other than you originally thought, something your heart truly desired, I don’t think that magic was empty. Though I won’t argue with you about it, especially if believing the magic was empty helps you feel better after the unmaking.

In the end we are all conjuring clay golems, or we are all clay golems conjured. Perhaps we are both, and though the journey to the unmaking is long, there will always be the walk back, “wading and stumbling, blinded by tears,” giving us enough time to forget our losses and relearn our freedom.

END

Read the story here, or click this to listen to the podcast.

Onyxis the Stone

Back again today with a throwback to some of my older work. This is one of my early takes on a modern day fable–this one a retelling of a story you probably recognize. Since I’ve been working on more fables lately I thought I’d share this older one with you. It took me forever to format because WordPress doesn’t like indentations and Google docs doesn’t like poetry–also why I had to take out the line numbers–but it came out legible so here it is.

[And here’s a link to the version with line numbers if you’re into that sort of thing.]

Enjoy.

What does the ‘B’ in Benoit B. Mandelbrot stand for?

I did another writing prompt today and it reminded of a joke: What does the ‘B’ in Benoit B. Mandelbrot stand for?

Benoit B. Mandelbrot.

Mandelbrot set

Here’s the writing prompt–a flash fiction prompt this time–along with a link and my response. Hope you enjoy it.

[ff] you’re walking along a street and you’re handed a flyer by a stranger that reads “[ff] you’re walking along a street and you’re handed a flyer by a stranger that reads “…””

Walking along Canal Street, the wet wind whipped a flying flyer into my angry face. I read it. No, it couldn’t be. I squinted closer. “Impossible,” I said aloud to nothing but space, crumpling the paper and letting the wind reclaim it. What did it say? It read:

Walking along Canal Street, the wet wind whipped a flying flyer into my angry face. I read it. No, it couldn’t be. I squinted closer. “Impossible,” I said aloud to nothing but space, crumpling the paper and letting the wind reclaim it. What did it say? It read:

Walking along Canal Street, the wet wind whipped a flying flyer into my angry face. I read it. No, it couldn’t be. I squinted closer. “Impossible,” I said aloud to nothing but space, crumpling the paper and letting the wind reclaim it. What did it say? It read…

Uncertainty

Took the chance to do another writing prompt from /r/writingprompts today. Here’s a link to the prompt–an image prompt this time, along with a nice quote. And here’s the image from that link, followed by my response:

 Evening With Pele by Michael Brandt [Click for source.]

Evening With Pele by Michael Brandt [Click image for source.]

Uncertainty

Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating. ― Carl von Clausewitz

He had convinced me to come all this way and now what? This?

“We’ll really learn a lot,” he said, brushing a curled strand of hair out of his face with that smile I’ll never forget, the one he used to get our first kiss. “Like, about us, the world, everything. It’s beautiful out there, romantic.” He leaned in to kiss me but I backed away, a big grin on my face.

“And what makes you think I’d like to go somewhere romantic with you, mister? How presumptuous.”

He giggled, reaching in to tickle me. “Me, presumptuous? I meant in the idealized sense. What gutter was your mind in?”

We fell to the floor in a heap of tickling and love, and I was soon convinced that this trip was exactly what we needed.

Not anymore, though. Not anymore.

His change first started to present itself even before the plane ride–on the way to the airport, packing, you name it. I saw in him then the seeds of the transformation that would overcome him, changing him into…What?

Packing was a mess. It was December, sure, but it was also Hawaii. Should he pack for cold or warm? The taxi was late picking us up and the security line long when we got to the airport, causing more of a huff. Even when we were finally in our seats, on our way to “learn so much about everything”, he couldn’t stop complaining about the baby sitting across the aisle from us even though the cute little thing never made a peep.

All signs, all I should have seen long before this trip, altogether too little too late. Now what?

I’m standing here alone, shivering, looking at a lame gray steam vent and waiting for some magical something to happen. That’s what.

And he? He is alone in the hotel room, doing God knows what, if you can even call what he’s become him. He’s changing in there, I’m sure. I wonder if I’ll even recognize his face when I see him again. Why did have to be such a– A what? What had he become? Had I changed as much as he?

The sun fell with my mood. I had been holding my head in my hands, mourning my own misfortune, for I don’t know how long when I looked up and the sun had gone down. The lame gray steam vent was all but lame at this time of night, lit with an intense orange glow as if the bowels of Hell were just under my feet.

I stood and took a few cautious steps toward the rising clouds of Hellsmoke. Could I get close enough to see into the pit, look into the very jaws of Hell and know for certainty of its existence? How close was too close?

I didn’t quite get to find out. Instead, I heard footsteps from behind me and turned to find him, not much changed from when I saw him last. “Oh, uh, I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought you were someone else, I…”

“Someone else?” I said. “But it’s me?”

“No.” He stepped closer, looking into my face as if he almost recognized it but not quite. Where did that smile I longed for go? “It is you. I–it’s–it’s weird, you know. You look completely different for some reason.”

“You’re telling me,” I said as he pulled me closer to the orange glow of the caldera.

“Let me just get some more of this light. I just, it’s–It’s so strange.”

As he pulled me closer, he tripped and fell tumbling toward the gaping mouth of the volcano, almost pulling me in with him. I was up fast enough to grab his leg, just as it was about to disappear behind the lip of the chasm. There he dangled, looking up at me, squirming and screaming for help, but all I could do was stare into the bright orange Hellfire, trying to discern just what it was I was seeing.

END

Writing Prompts

I’ve been doing a couple of writing prompts on reddit’s /r/writingprompts and I thought I’d go ahead and share them on this site–trying to give it a little content, you know. Without further ado, here they are. I’ll put the prompt first with a link to the post on reddit in case you want to read anyone else’s interpretation.

First, the short one, and the one that I like better of the two:

[Writing Prompt] You are a human that cannot die of anything. It is well after the end of the universe and after being asleep for X amount of light years you wake up.

Time and space were no different. The universe was flat and it did not repeat itself. Ever.

At least that’s what they had said, at least that’s what they had said.

I had been soaring through nothing for who knows how long, who knows how far. If there is nothing what is time? What is motion? What is space?

My eyes opened.

Had I been asleep? Was I ever awake before then?

A flicker off in the distance. Wait, there wasn’t distance for so long, for so far, how was there–

Light. Bright, piercing, as immovable as me, darkness, yet ever moving all the same.

I blinked again and the light was gone, but I closed my eyes with the knowledge that it would soon return, even if I still had no idea what soon meant.

END

Then, one that’s a bit longer. And, yes, my gut reaction was to shoot them down, too, but I didn’t want to repeat that story because there were already a few like it. Click the link if you’d like to give them a read:

[Writing Prompt] To combat humanities current problems, scientists send the less fortunate 4 billion of the planet at light speed so they arrive a few hundred years from now. Humanity has been waiting for their return and has prepared accordingly.

Arrival Day

The flags were raised and the music played. Oh, what a splendid sight to see. After years of toil, preparing the way for the future, here they came. And what a future they would have. The only worry was–well, no. There mustn’t be any worries.

Geordi–yes, my Geordi, unbelievable as it seems–was put in charge of planning the party. I swear to you, he fainted when he got the news. I was there, I saw it with my own two eyes. When I finally shook him awake, he jumped into action–ordering me here and there, making phone call after phone call, and generally losing all capability of sleep. That was 6 months before Arrival Day. Geordi hadn’t stopped moving since.

On Arrival Day itself, I was telling Marissa–yes the Marissa who thought she should have been planning the thing instead of Geordi–well, I was telling her…something, I don’t know. It’s not important anyway. I was talking to her and Geordi came rushing out of the kitchen–his paisley tuxedo disheveled from running all over the party for this reason or that–and ran right into us.

Marissa–of course, she’s Marissa, we’ve been over this–well, she gives him this look like she wanted to kill him–and again, she probably did, she wanted to plan the party. Thank God it was too late for killing him to get her that or she might have done it right then and there. But Geordi, you know, he was busy, so he quickly apologized to me then stormed off to do some other important party planner work without actually acknowledging Marissa.

Ugh.” Marissa scoffed, shaking her head in disgust and trying to get me to complain about Geordi–I could tell. “What an asshole, am I right?”

I just smiled and nodded. Remember this is my Geordi we’re talking about. She was not right. Not in the least. She was just being a spiteful sore loser and trying to pull me down to her level. I wasn’t going to do it.

“I swear, I could have planned such a better party. I mean, red carpet? How cliché. What are you gonna tell me next, he plans on throwing out a big welcome mat for them? I bet he would.”

I held my tongue at that, still silently nodding but taking deeper drinks, hoping to finish the thing and have an excuse to leave before I got drunk enough to speak my mind. I knew that Geordi did have a welcome mat of sorts planned and I thought it was a cute idea. Marissa probably hated it because she had come up with the same idea and never got a chance to use it.

Marissa went on complaining and my drink wasn’t going fast enough even though I was pouring it down my throat like a funnel. I was on the verge of snapping at her when Geordi’s amplified voice called our attention to the stage where he was preparing for the countdown.

“Ladies and gentleman,” he said, and I took a few steps away from Marissa so I wouldn’t have to talk to her as the ceremony went on. “For hundreds of years we’ve waited for this moment. Here it finally comes. I’m not one who’s much for words, so I’ll leave it at that. If you’ll all count down with me now.”

“Ten, nine,” the entire crowd counted with him, myself included, though probably not Marissa. I didn’t really care so I didn’t turn to see.

“Six, five…”

We all looked up at the sky as we counted. We could see the ship, a little dot out in the distance getting bigger as our future approached.

“There it is!” someone in the crowd called.

“Four, three…”

“Is it getting too big?” came another voice. “It’s–it’s too fast.”

“Two, one…”

“Nonsense. It’s meant to do that,” someone else said.

I looked up at Geordi on the stage. He had stopped counting and dropped his microphone, but he wasn’t staring at the sky, he was staring at Marissa and shaking his head, as if to imply that she had something to do with it. Marissa, for her part, grinned and shrugged despite the growing noise and flames plummeting from above.

“Maybe I couldn’t have planned a better party,” she said, though I’m not sure I could hear her more than I read her lips or put words in her mouth.

I looked over at Geordi one more time, and–

“Zero.”

The ship came in too fast. The party was explosive and exciting, but a disaster nonetheless.

END

That’s all for now, folks. Expect more in the future. Maybe I’ll go look at the prompts now. Until then.