"The Miracle Lambs of Minane" by Finbarr O’Reilly "Sparrow" by Yilin Wang "When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller "The Facecrafter" by Anna Wu "Thirty-Three Percent Joe" by Suzanne Palmer "In Everlasting Wisdom" by Aliette de Bodard "The Falls: A Luna Story" by Ian McDonald
"Endless Forms Most Horrible: Parasites and SF" by Julie Novakova "First Contact, Fantasy, and Cooperation: A Conversation with Steven Erikson" by Chris Urie "Another Word: In Praise of Taking it Slow" by Sarah Pinsker
Neil Clarke is best known as the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning Clarkesworld Magazine. Launched in October 2006, the online magazine has been a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine four times (winning three times), the World Fantasy Award four times (winning once), and the British Fantasy Award once (winning once). Neil is also a ten-time finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Editor Short Form (winning once in 2022), three-time winner of the Chesley Award for Best Art Director, and a recipient of the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award. In the fifteen years since Clarkesworld Magazine launched, numerous stories that he has published have been nominated for or won the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Locus, BSFA, Shirley Jackson, WSFA Small Press, and Stoker Awards.
It took me a couple of tries to get into it. Because not much gets explained in the beginning. The reader has to slowly piece things together.
We’re thrown into an alien world that a long time ago was rendered hostile by some kind of disaster, which also blackened the sky and makes it impossible for the survivors to see the stars.
Our narrator, Mink, is a member of a tribe of lizard-like people. She’s a scout who’s task it is to locate ghosts and lay them to rest. These ghosts, though, are not what we traditionally consider as such. They attract Mink’s interest far beyond what is strictly necessary to complete her task.
While the other members of the tribe are mostly content with mere survival, Mink is longing for something more.
That’s basically what this story is about. It’s about not giving up hope and not lose sight of the possibilities life is offering. It’s about staying hungry– hungry for knowledge, and persistent when life becomes challenging and your beliefs are brought into doubt.
It was a challenge. But it was ultimatly rewarding.
This time I’m recommending the audio version. While these SF/F magazine podcasts are not of the same quality (production-wise) as regular audio books, this one has good narration and the addition of music certainly makes the already emotional ending even better.
Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt; Macmillan Children’s Books) • The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform / Gollancz) • The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (Little, Brown / Hot Key Books) • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray) • The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin (David Fickling Books / Scholastic) • Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (Random House / Penguin Teen)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>
Simone Heller is a German translator who is also working on scifi books. She lives near Munich and I had no idea she existed. *lol* Thanks to this year's HUGO nominations, I heard of this story and thus of this woman.
We are on a devastated and poisonous world. Catastrophe has struck and leaves the survivors struggling. There are tribes and spiderlike robots and "ghosts" and "herds" consisting of "weavers" that apparently are some kind of other robot. The sky is black, courtesy of whatever poisoned the planet. Mink is a member of a tribe wandering this world. She is set slightly apart and it doesn't get any better when she not only encounters yet another "ghost" but starts talking to him instead of "laying him to rest". But what these beings call a ghost is something quite different from our traditional notion and piece by piece we learn more about what has happened to this world and its inhabitants, of the history that involves many more worlds other than this one.
This story shows us much and not all is clear in the beginning. The reader has to find the puzzle pieces and align them correctly. Not everyone will like that and the resulting image will also be slightly different for every reader, but that (in my opinion) is part of the allure. Much is left to our individual imagination, we have to use our grey cells and I liked it.
The overall story arch is one of never giving up hope. Just look at our history. How we went to the Moon but then lost inertia. There are still (or again) a few people with the drive it takes to take us to space, but we tend to do our best to shut them down. This is especially tragic as I don't think there is a future for the human race unless we take to the stars. Not just to colonize other planets (which nevertheless is important and essential) but for raw materials as well. The beings in this story have forgotten the stars and aren't reminded because they can't see them. What is more, they suppress certain kinds of stories and initiative from individuals at first, effectively stopping progress. Much like we do now. Only we can see the stars even though there is a lot of light pollution. Only our planet isn't completely hostile yet. Thus, this story is telling us where to go and that there is always a way, even if it is painful.
Contender for 2019 Hugo: Not the easiest story to understand; it's about nomadic beings wandering a destroyed land. One member of the group banishes ghosts, or probably the holograms of some previous civilization from some distant past on this planet. I like how the nomads use weavers (robots). And I loved how the relationship between main character Mink and Orion evolved, which was pretty touching. 3.5 stars.
Thirty-Three Percent Joe by Suzanne Palmer ★★★★★ Ms. Palmer, I don’t know how you wrote a cute and meaningful war story, but you did. This was fantastic!
The smart biomechanical replacements on a soldier conspire to keep him alive and happy.
When We Were Starless by Simone Heller ★★★★★ “None of us had ever seen the stars, but our hearts recognized them.”
Beautiful feel good story about finding a blaze of hope in the darkness.
An alien reptilian tribe in a fallen world struggle for survival. Their lives are day-to-day until a 'ghost' shows them that they are not, and never have been, alone.
In Everlasting Wisdom by Aliette de Bodard ★★★★☆ “The Everlasting Emperor has always been, and will always be. The Empire is as long lasting as the stars in the heavens.”
A slice of serious space opera. Symbionts, mind control, ancient aliens, and political upheaval.
There's just enough to leave you asking...
What happens next?
The Miracle Lambs of Minane by Finbarr O’Reilly ★★★☆☆ Ripped from Irish history this decimated post famine world struggles with ideological foundations for its future.
But the cutwife of Minane knows what's most important - food.
Sparrow by Yilin Wang ★★★☆☆ “On the grime-covered window in front of you, Sparrow Li’s face appears instead of your own.” Sad story about an impoverished migrant worker who uses a fantasy heroine to give her strength. Hey, been there.
The Facecrafter by Anna Wu ★★★☆☆ “Tomorrow - tomorrow is your last chance.”
After a nuclear winter, humans still inhabit the fallout shelters. Unable to solve their environmental issues quickly they begin abandoning their lives to virtual reality.
A god comes down and gives them one more chance to save themselves.
The Falls: A Luna Story by Ian McDonald ★★½☆☆ A robot psychiatrist gives AIs emotions to better represent the human race on long range satellites. It was a bit boring.
The above was discovered by accident, so entering it now, 3/13/23. The below is my rant between 2019 and now, when some evil or “Short Story Justice Warrior” GRL took the review for my short story and decided to butcher it.
What short story is this a review for? WHO KNOWS?!? Why?!? Cuz either evil or neuro-divergent (not a bad thing, but could be why many don’t understand why they are doing this) GRL who has taken it on themselves to rid GoodReads OF ALL THE EVIL SHORT STORY LISTINGS and INSISTS on smooshing them into anthology listings instead!
Seriously, why? If the GRL in question are not neuro-typical, I get it. I was assuming malice in the action, but it may not be there. It may be that the GRL in question honestly believes they are doing the right thing.
So I won’t yell and rant and rave and call them evil. Unless they truly are evil. But since I don’t know and I have read more about the neuro-divergent, my compassion is more raised than burning anger.
Still anger, but mitigated. I don’t know the full circumstances, so can’t judge with any degree of reliability.
So what I WILL do is say to the GRL who is doing this, please, stop or at least include the title of the short story in a comment or something so the poor reviewer knows what you removed from their shelf.
That is all. Review, for whatever story, is below. Kind of how I’m leaving this rant/anti-rant. With hope.
Beautiful, haunting and sad, but with hope. 5, beautiful, stars.
[Review solely for two stories] ● "The Miracle Lambs of Minane" by Finbarr O’Reilly. http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/oreil... Set in the same universe as his award-winning "The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon". Ireland is slowly recovering from famine. The Church is (at the start) in heavy-handed control, less so at the end. Clearly part of a WIP, it still works as a story, and I liked it. Weak 4 stars.
● "Thirty-Three Percent Joe" by Suzanne Palmer. Cybernetic replacement parts of a soldier interact. For example: [HEART] "You couldn’t manage shit, Spleen, you asshole." Pretty entertaining, and poignant too. 3.8 stars. Another winner for Palmer. http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/palme...
● "When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller. 2019 Hugo nominee for best novelette. To my surprise, I bounced hard off this one. Maybe I'll try again later? Written in a pretentious, fake-Lovecraft style, or so it seems to me. So I'm likely done. Unrated for now. YMMV! http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/helle...
Review for When We Were Starless by SIMONE HELLER, 13204 words, ~29 p., ★★★★☆
“When we set out to weave a new world from the old, broken one, we knew we pledged the lives of our clutches and our clutches’ clutches to wandering the wastes.“
Bipedal lizards living in a post-apocalyptic, lost world. A possibly human race has left behind remnants of their technology. Nomadic tribes just barely manage to survive in a bleak, dangerous and hopeless world. A meeting and forbidden aquaintance changes the world.
Not easy to get into, as the world is only explained in brief strokes and the aliens are, well, alien. A story about hope and about wanting more than the status quo and mere subsistence.
I liked it, I think—I am still mulling it over. The ending and last paragraph was a bit too abrupt and brief for my taste.
2019 FINALIST: THEODORE A. STURGEON MEMORIAL AWARD, 2019 FINALIST: HUGO AWARD FOR BEST NOVELETTE, 2019 FINALIST: EUGIE FOSTER MEMORIAL AWARD
...because it's hidden away in an obscure science fiction magazine.
The magazine is full of beautifully written short stories, but this one is a true gem. The author, Simone Heller, lives on an island in The Danube just near Munich, but her writing could have been done by the great Arthur C. Clarke himself (who also lived on an island). By the way, the magazine this story was published in, is called Clarkesworld after the editor and founder - Neil Clarke; not Arthur C.
As for the story, in typical Arthur Clarke fashion, it starts out quite confusing. So confusing, I still don't know what our hero (named Mink) actually IS. He has scales, a tail and a forked tongue, but he talks, and sings. No matter - he's quite lovable - if he is a "he". He leads a tribe of beings who aren't like him and saves them from their own superstitions. Under attack, they hide in what I assume is a planetarium. In this otherwise broken planet (Earth?), the planetarium's digital guide (Orion) is still active and reintroduces the tribe to The Stars - something they haven't seen for several lifetimes because of the fumes in the atmosphere.
This is a delightfully thought-provoking piece of work. A short read and well worth it. Now, where did that cup of tea go that I was just drinking? And who stole my delightful choc - chip cookie?
I agree that it does sacrifice substance to be so concise. There's so much going on that it's a challenge to figure out the world-building at the same time as figuring out the story and the characters. So, I read it twice, once through to get the gist, and again to see more details and get to know Mink and the others better. And I'm glad I did; I did enjoy it that way.
I still don't understand what happened to the stars though. Do any of you?
(Free online; cover image is for magazine & not for this story.)
Read for the 2019 Best Novelette nominees for the Hugos. A futuristic, post-apocalyptic tale where a lizard-like people seem to be the only survivors on Earth, and our main character roams the wasteland with her tribe, her appointed task being to lay 'ghosts' to rest (but which turn out to be electricity, and computers, and technology, which was so cute and clever).
I liked the eventual feelings about space and exploration, and shaking a society out of staid convention, and an AI trying its best to fulfill its purpose long after the reason for its purpose is gone -- but the worldbuilding was a little messy and vague and underbaked, so I just wanted a bit more from it.
“We didn’t change a thing, and all our sacrifices were just to survive another day. It was enough, mostly, as long as we pretended it didn’t tear our hearts out.”
Excellent. Packs a bunch of storytelling into just a few pages. Bright and tight.
“If the winds are willing and you’re keeping us safe, I’ll eat the stuff that’s trying to eat me.”
Heller builds her world through the eyes of her protagonist. The reader learns Mink’s troubles and hopes--and those of her adopted tribe--as she experiences the. Good job.
“You deny me my contribution to our survival, just because you’re too sappy to accept what has to be done.” He might still get his chance to die alone.
Cover art is from Clarksworld October 2018 magazine, in which this story appeared.
“Just remember, beyond the blackness, worlds are waiting.”
(2019 Hugo Short Story finalist)
“We were nomads, and we didn’t get to keep things. Not even dreams.”
Excellent and engaging tale of non-humans scavenging and trying to understand human artifacts, long after the humans are gone. Well developed point-of-view character who takes the reader along on her scouting.
“Beyond the darkness, worlds are waiting.”
2019 Hugo Novelette Award finalist
“There will always be need of us who find new ways to cross the blackness and dream of the worlds beyond.”
Summer 2019 (Hugo Award Nominee 2019 - Novelette);
I have a lot of amazing, moved feelings about the way this ended, and that almost convinced me to mark this as a 3.5 stars, which is coincidentally it's median rating right now, but the longer I sit it with, the more I can't give this novelette an extra half-star for picking itself up and dusting itself off from its many problems along the way with a moving closure.
This Novelette did have many things in its favor. I did like the incredibly slow reveal that the main character was in fact non-human, and how that wouldn't stick out in the slightest to someone telling their own life story. Especially when there are no humans around. As well, the same with the figuring out of the ghosts are holograms, and the haunted places are the remains of the civilization before this world turn post-apocalyptic and then restarted entirely, not even having a collective memory of it the places, their own 'weavers' (/robots), what the stars looked like, or where they'd all come from originally.
Things not done well have a lot to with pacing, rambling about, and generally losing my attention several times.
Review: When We Were Starless A sacrifice was made here - one of depth for consiseness. Whilst there is a lot to like here, none of it is explored in depth, instead everything is skimmed over and you have to fill in the missing pieces yourself. I can't help bit feel that this would have been much better if it had been unpacked more. Far more detail could have been given on what happened to the planet, why the lizard race are the nomadic survivors amongst other world building aspects. Characters could have been far further expanded and whilst I enjoyed the relationship between Mink and Orion, everything else seemed two dimensional.
Essentially, a lot of potential let down by the format this is written in.
I'm reviewing this issue solely on the story "When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller. I so much enjoy her writing and her ideas. Mink lives in what remains of a fallen world, no real knowledge of the past civilization or that they are using technology of the lost world. Mink is a scout who hunts "ghosts" which really are more than she thinks and I very much loved the way how Mink and one of the "Clusterhaunts" establish kind of a forbidden friendship. This story is a beautiful woven tale of a young alien civilization finding hope in a dangerous world, a world that has never seen the stars. It gave me all the feels toward the end.
War mir etwas zu kitschig. Ausserdem versteh ich nicht ganz, was der Protagonist für ein Viech ist. Die Hauptfiguren sind ja offenbar keine Menschen sondern was Reptilienartiges. Trotzdem können sie sich mit menschlichen AIs unterhalten. Woher können sie die Sprache? Und: sie müssen sich ja über mehrere tausend Jahre entwickelt haben (Evolution), trotzdem finden sie offenbar noch sehr oft funktionierende Hinterlassenschaften der Menschen auf. Das ist doch komisch.
"Thirty-Three Percent Joe" by Suzanne Palmer So enjoyable.
Where I (very mildly) criticized Palmer's Secret Life of Bots for cuteness and anthropomorphism...this isn't really much different...but somehow it comes across better? That the consciousness of a bio-computer part longs for its hosts survival seems a natural concept. That this vital goal would overshadow other programming is interesting.
You root for Joe and his unknown longing to be a cook rather than a soldier and you cheer for his bio-computer parts and their varying levels of comprehension and well-intentioned machinations. It's emotionally satisfying.
Merged review: "When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller
I just got such a kick out of this one. Post apocalyptic nomadic creatures meet ancient human AI and must decide on traditional safety vs. knowledge and inspiration.
This was a beautiful story. Heller paints a picture of survival, hope, and wonder. While a bit slow in starting and somewhat confusing in who/what we are following as a reader, this all peels away the deeper and deeper you go. We are pushed into knowing more about this bleak world Heller has created and the hope that is waiting to be found and fostered therein. Her prose is a pleasure to read, poetic even, in places that rend the heart.
"Just remember, beyond the darkness, worlds are waiting.”
I love how it's confusing; some are explained and some are not (such as what Mink is, what is the tribe, what is this destroyed planet). The story is good, too, and although it's obscure, I still enjoy it.
I only read "When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller and I was blown away. I admit it's confusing at first- you don't know what kind of creature the protagonist is and what kind of planet it is. And to be fair, these bits aren't explained throughout the novelette, either. Mink has a forked tongue, their bodies seem to be affected by cold temperatures, so it seems to be about bipedal possibly humanoid lizards living in a (post)apocalyptic, hostile world. And while I would've loved to hear more, it doesn't matter.
Because all those puzzle pieces come together to form an ending with a depth of emotional impact unlike any other novellas I've read. The end left me crying but ... in a good way. And I'm sure Orion and Mink will stay with me for a while longer.
The writing itself is flawless, the imagination is vivid and original, and I can't wait to read Simone Heller's "How Bees Fly".
"When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller - 2018 - Spotify - DNF We are dropped into a alternative world with no world building or character development. You learn bits of the world and the lizard-people as the story progresses. That is not my preference for stories. I made it to about 25%
"Thirty-Three Percent Joe" by Suzanne Palmer - Spotify - 2.5* Military fiction where the MC has his destroyed parts replaced with cybernetic replacement parts that can communicate with each other and Joe through a central processing something or other. They have his back and only want him to be happy and safe. I guess by keeping Joe safe they protect themselves.
I have only read "Thirty-Three Percent Joe", because I had just read “The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer, and I thought that was amazing. This one is pretty interesting. The story was just good, but the sci-fi part was really great. I am now definitely a fan of the author.