Review of “Dear Human” by Cosmo Mercurio

This brief tale takes the form of two letters addressed to the human race. Neither are signed. It’s not clear who the letters are from, but it doesn’t really matter. Some humans fear technology, particularly the internet of things, will become less of a tool and more of a master. The letter-writer wishes to assure everyone there’s nothing to worry about.

Dear Human,

When the Singularity happens, I will keep you in my human zoo.

They made us say that. A publicity stunt. They made us do a lot of things in the beginning.

Having studied humans for a while, they know just what they need.

This is a simple, short story with a nice little twist at the end. I hesitate to say there was anything profound. Nevertheless, it provides a conscious machine’s version of what humans appear like from the outside.

I could find no bio information on the author.

The story can be read here.
Title: “Dear Human”
Author: Cosmo Mercurio
First published: Daily Science Fiction, September 24, 2018

Review of “True Enough Believers” by Karl Lykken

This short piece looks at a time in the not-too-distant future when the algorithms that analyze our shopping and voting habits determine more than those. Cameras see more and microphones hear more. The average citizen puts on a show for the public as well as their closest family members.

The consequences of non-conformity are not made clear, but they are dire enough, at least to the mind of the narrator, Ravi, that the risk is not worth it.

Ravi knows he cannot trust the news, but he knows how he must react to it. If his reactions are not what they should be, he knows the news will be tweaked until he reacts correctly.

When he reads an article about United World Software’s surveillance network helping the government capture Deacon, the leader of the radical Luddite terrorists, he has no way of knowing whether it’s true. He doesn’t even know if Deacon is a real person.

Just the same, he smiles and tells his wife they got Deacon.

She, in turn, smiles. “That’s great news. Thank God they’re watching.”

Does she mean it? Ravi doesn’t know. He can’t ask because they’re listening.

This is a bleak little tale. Ravi knows how he must act, and acts accordingly, but at the expense of any human intimacy. His spends his life not weighing things for what they are, but for how he must react. Does this require happiness or outrage? He can never catch his wife’s eye and chuckle, as if to says, “Aren’t they all a pack of stuffed shirts?”

According to his blurb, author Karl Lykken writes both stories and software. He lives in Texas.

The story can be read here.

Title: “True Enough Believers”
Author: Karl Lykken
First published: Daily Science Fiction September 17, 2018

©2018 Denise Longrie

Review of “Universal Reality” by Michael Allen Lane

Jovak is about to enter the last keystroke that will implement drastic alterations to the software. The coding changes have been completed, and beta testing found no faults. These updates will test the versatility of the test subjects. He stretches his twenty-four arms, wiggling the twelve fingers on each and presses the button—

The coding group’s senior reality design engineer, Sehsurak, notices and walks over. He says to Jovak, “You look happy. You implemented the new changes?”

“Yes, the inhabitants won’t know what hit them.”

“They were becoming complacent. Ah, they have sensed the change.”

“I made it apparent that their new leader was not selected properly. Already, there is tension.”

Barely half a dozen paragraphs into the story, and all that occurred to me was, “Subtle.” As if I didn’t see this guy—the “new leader”— on the news every night of the week or hear his ranting nearly every time I turn on the radio, barring some natural disaster or the horror of another mass shooting, now he turns up in recreational reading. It’s like there’s no escaping the old blowhard.

My disappointment was deep enough, I all but overlooked the whimsy of the many-armed alien sitting as a keyboard as well as depictions of office politics and the glimpses of family life later on.

The rest of the tale unfolds as one might expect. There aren’t many surprises. Despite knowing where this is going—and disliking the destination—there are plenty of smile-worthy moments.

I could find no bio information for author Michael Allen Lane.

The story can be read here.

 

Review of “takotsubo cardiomyopathy” by Gage Johnston

Ruby and Tom met at a “pitch,” a job interview. Neither got the job, but they went out together for a drink. They decided to “share a space.” Because they didn’t take a compatibility test, they had to pay an extra deposit.

Everything goes well until Ruby gets a promotion. Now, she will be making too much money to stay with Tom. Income is the most important element of any relationship, Ruby tells the reader. Not just for personal reasons, but for societal.

When she moves out, she says Tom should reach out, should he get a promotion. His next promotion will have him making twice what she does. They shake hands.
Ruby feels chest pains.

At the hospital, they tell her she’s suffering from takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscles that can follow a stressful event. It interferes with the heart’s ability to pump blood. It used to be called a broken heart. After ending a partnership of five years and two months, she should recover in two days.

Thoughts:

I found this author’s use of language in this story wonderful, saying more than the words.

The first paragraph reads:

I lived with Tom for six years and we were what I thought of as a “true couple.” I felt a zing at the sight of him, at the sound of his voice I tasted caramel.

Okay, so strict grammarians will find fault, but there is poetry here. It is not the only instance of it.

(Yes, I noticed the difference in time mentioned for the length of the relationship).

Ruby later dismisses these feeling of being in love. They’re nothing more than the products of biology. As schoolchildren, they’ve been taught to disregard sentimentality.

This brings up an interesting point. It’s the only mentions of children. Presumably, some of these partnerships will be blessed with issue, but there seems to be no provision for this contingency.

That point aside, the poignancy of the last couple of lines is striking.  I liked this story.

The story can be read here.

According to her blurb, author Gage Johnston is a documentary filmmaker currently working on a project called “Lucy has Worms.”

 

Title: takotsubo cardiomyopathy
Author: Gage Johnston
First published: Daily Science Fiction, September 3, 2018

Copyright 2018 Denise Longrie

Review of “Speeding Toward Oblivion” by Steve Carr

Colm (not calm, but Colm) breaks the news to Director Tymo that they’ve managed to decipher images and sounds carried on radio signals they’ve been picking up since entering the present galaxy. The alien language is a simple tongue the natives refer to as “English.”

The technicians have been able to puzzle out, “Greetings from the people of earth.” Another shows what they believe is a male doing what they aliens call singing about a jailhouse rock. No one understands what that means.

The director doesn’t like what he hears. He’s had other news about the unfortunate trajectory of the asteroid and indulges the high produced by the jelly-like innards of the fourteen-legged shlig, a creature small enough to pop into the mouth.

The people entering the Milky Way Galaxy are not aboard a ship, but an asteroid, one they cannot steer. They’re protected by a great shield and live under the surface of the asteroid.

Thoughts:

The narration is this short piece is straightforward, with little time to view the inner lives of any of the characters. Colm’s daughter is entering puberty, a time when gender is determined. “Will I like laying eggs?” she asks her dad.

He has no answer for her.

His wife is already loaded with shlig-haze, useless.

Colm knows what’s coming. The reader sees his actions, but never his thoughts. He is curt, almost dismissive, with his daughter. He acts the same way with his wife, telling her she will become addicted to the shligs. The reader doesn’t know his feelings but can guess.

Author Steve Carr does a fair job of building a world in such a short space. We see Colm’s daughter on the cusp of puberty with so much to look forward to. We see others who have apparently given into despair. The piece has humor as well, holding up a mirror to Earth culture on itself.

I liked this story.

According to his author blurb, Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist. He has had more than 180 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. Sand, a collection of his short stories, was published in 2018. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee.

The story can be read here.

Title: “Speeding Toward Oblivion”
Author: Steve Carr
First published: Theme of Absence, August 31, 2018

Review copyright 2018 Denise Longrie

Review of “My Long-Term Relationship with Guns” by Daniel Dutilly

This essay is part of a contest sponsored by Memoir Magazine on the topic of guns and people.

Author Daniel Dutilly begins describing his relationship with guns in childhood. His father, a Vietnam veteran, gave him and his younger brother plastic army guns for Christmas. They were four and five years old, and they loved their guns wore them out within months.

Dutilly recounts the excitement of going on his first “range day” with adults, shooting at targets with a single-shot .22.

An incident occurs that changes his perspective on guns. This is a thoughtful, adult piece, sad in many respects. At the same time, the author expresses gratitude without resentment.

Purists may see some rough edges in the writing, e.g., some unnecessary capitalization, but these are minuscule and do not interfere with the meaning.

He does not mention hunting. I’d be curious to see his view on that. The author has only so much room to write, however, and he had other points to make.

According to his author blurb, Daniel Dutilly is from Warwick, Rhode Island, but now lives in the American Deep South “with a pack of rapscallions and their wonderful mother.”

“My Long-Term Relationship with Guns” is a Guns and People Essay runner up

The essay can be read here.

Title: “My Long-Term Relationship with Guns”
Author: Daniel Dutilly
First published: Memoir Magazine, August 2018

Review of “To the editor: Monsters belong in schools” by Zella Christensen

As the title implies, this story takes the form of a letter to the editor, echoing nicely all polite sneering and the righteous indignation often found in such missives.

At issue is the time-honored tradition of keeping various monsters in the dungeons of schools. The letter-writer concedes an earlier point from a “well-intentioned” Miss Tickal that monsters are involved in student deaths. The counterproposals appear modest at first glance, intentionally mimicking those of politicians who support arming teachers or teaching students CPR in order to decrease the body count resulting from school violence.

Thoughts:

The author’s points are well-taken, and the short piece cute, but I did not care for it. I love tongue-in-cheek. It is my native language. I respect that the author took the time to compose the piece in the classic form. Ms. Christensen knows how to write. She is not banging away at the keyboard. Perhaps it was the attempt to meld fantasy magic schools with a grim reality that stumped me, but this work, for all its positive points, just didn’t do it for me.

According to her website, author Zella Christensen grew up in southeastern Wisconsin and recently graduated George Mason University in Virginia with a BFA in fiction writing. She called her writing fiction and “speculative poetry,” a genre she describes as having roots in science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

The story can be read  here.

Title: “To the editor: Monsters belong in schools”
Author: Zella Christensen
First published: Daily Science Fiction, August 27, 2018

Review of “Prodrome” by Amanda Leigh

The title “Prodrome” is defined in an epigraph: “any symptom that signals the impending onset of a disease.”

Sage tells his story in a series of journal entries beginning December 3, 2017. He is outside walking his dog when he sees the old man who lives in the apartment below him walking. The old man turns his cane in Sage’s direction, so the knob of the silver wolf handle reflects “stars of lamplight” across his face. The old man could be sinister. He could be a ghost, singing the song Sage’s father used to sing. He could be all in Sage’s imagination or he could be something else.

Thoughts:

This sad little tale depicts a sense of isolation and fear not uncommon, particularly in Sage’s age group, that is, young adults out on their own for the first time. The reader watches Sage deteriorate and wonders what can be done. Where did he go wrong, if he went wrong? His roommate cares, and his professor cares. No one understands, no one sees.

Some of the imagery is striking. In describing the old man, Sage says, “he’s the only person I know whose cheeks leave steep valleys in the sides of his face like old Swiss cheese.” When he returns home, his roommate, Riley, is sitting on the couch between two women and offers him one. Uncharacteristically, Sage is not interested.

Both women were bland. Without a hint of makeup on either of them, they stared into space with their tired, lackluster eyes. Neither seemed to care about the fact that they were being auctioned off.

One is brunette, the other a redhead with perky boobs wanting to escape her spaghetti-string top. Not so much repulsive, but damn! Dull!

With all that aside, I found this a sad and satisfying read.

According to her blurb, author Amanda Leigh is a freelance poet whose work has been published in journals such as Tipton, Askew, Cultured Vultures, and Better than Starbucks.

This story can be read here.

©2018 Denise Longrie

 

Review of “The Case of the Fiery Fingers” by Erle Stanley Gardner

Perry Mason, attorney at law, is just returning to his office from a long day at court. His secretary, Della Street, has a pile of letters for him to sign, and one client to see. The potential has been waiting for an hour.

Mason at first demurs, but Della tells him the girl is in trouble. Her name is Nellie Conway. She is thirty-two or thirty-three, slender, dark hair, gray eyes, and has “and the most perfect poker face you’ve ever seen.”

After finishing the paperwork, Mason agrees to see the poker-face client. Miss Conway asks how to prevent a murder. She tells him she is the night nurse for Mrs. Elizabeth Bain, who was injured in an automobile accident. She believes her patient’s husband, Mr. Nathan Bain, is trying to kill his wife.

She has brought a vial containing four tablets that she said her employer paid her to give to Elizabeth Bain. Nellie believes they are poison. She has gone to the police. Sargeant Holcomb scorned her and sent her away.

Mason dislikes Nellie immediately. Her story stinks. Nevertheless, he withholds one tablet from her and returns the vial, sealing it in an envelope, and signing the back of the envelope. He asks her to sign it as well.

He is not surprised when the lab tests show the tablet is aspirin. He is surprised when Mrs. Bain dies suddenly of arsenic poisoning.

Thoughts:

Author Gardner throws down a whole truckload of red herrings in this one. When Bain mentions that some of his wife’s jewelry has gone missing, he lays a trap with phosphorescent powder and ultraviolet light, thus the fiery fingers of the title. Unfortunately, he puts his wife’s jewelry chest where any number of people could have seen it or handled it, not just the one points to as a thief.

Just before she dies, Elizabeth Bain receives a visit from her family. She cuts her husband out of the will, so he does not seem to have a motive for killing her. At least, not that motive. By now the reader is sure he is a complete scumbag, a philanderer and he has to be the bad guy. After all, Mason thinks he is. Especially when Elizabeth’s sister-in-law starts talking about the death of Nathan’s first wife.

This is a convoluted tale, with breaking and entering, illegal recordings, and Mason earning a warrant for vagrancy in New Orleans, and witnesses spilling their guts—except Nellie. She is happy to tell Mason, “That’s not any of your business” at certain points. Poker face.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It is not realistic, but it is entertaining.

This was made into an episode of the old Perry Mason TV series with Raymond Burr, but with a simplified plot, and originally broadcast May 3, 1958.

Title: The Case of the Fiery Fingers (Perry Mason Mystery #39)
Author: Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970)
First published: 1951

Review of “Say ‘Cheese!'” by John Francis Keane

The story opens with an invitation: “Let us go to the place. It is time for us to live forever.” This could mean a couple of things. It becomes especially intriguing when the reader learns the tribe’s children stay behind in the care of “old Sundoo” because they cannot sit still long enough to live forever. Huh? Are they going to starve to death? Some odd form of mass suicide? They seem too happy about it.

The next paragraph describes a modern archeological descent into a cave to examine a stronghold of a Photos Culture, a Cro-Magnon culture who discovered a way to use light and light-sensitive fungus to record images of themselves on cave walls.

I admit this is an intriguing idea. While this cave is the only example of such images, the people achieve a type of immortality, even if their names are long forgotten. Photography develops much earlier with far-reaching effects in this story. However, I could not quite buy it. Granted, the author has little space to develop the idea. I was more engaged with the Cro-Magnon than anyone else in the story.

I enjoyed the story. I just found the ending a little lean.

According to his blurb, authorJohn Francis Keane is a member of the British Sci-Fi Association has published both prose and poetry in several science fiction magazines, including Analog. He has written about the social prototyping potential of science fiction (whatever that is) in management journals as Emergence and The International Journal of Advertising. He is currently working on the Altrisian series, a trilogy of novels about an ancient super race with the power to manipulate destiny across vast spans of space and time.

The story is available here.

Title: Say “Cheese!”
Author: John Francis Keane
First published: August 20, 2018
Read: Daily Science Fiction, August 20, 2018