03 April 2015

Review Roundup: ZUGZWANG

Posting this to track reviews for a former 512 which became a longer story, and was published last September! You might see some ETA's below as time goes on...


Games with aliens. The sort of story that's not in the least bit groundbreaking, but still enjoyable.

Psocoptera, "2014 online short fantasy and science fiction recommendations, part 6"

A middle-aged woman is challenged to a game of alien chess to save the crew of a spaceship. This story could’ve been bleak, but instead it made me happy and hopeful.

Sara Norja, "Sunday recs: Fairytale, memory loss, alien chess"

[T]his story is about an alien encounter and it hooked me in right from the beginning. Its writer’s name is Curtis [C.] Chen. As a big fan of Ted Chiang and Ken Liu (if you haven’t heard of them, you’re missing out on some awesome stories!), I was curious to see another Chinese American name.

And I wasn’t disappointed. The story was excellently crafted. The plot had tension and several layers of things going on, yet no word seemed redundant and all of the sentences were simple-yet-varied.

Natso, "A Cool Sci-Fi Short Story, A Question That Sprouted From It"

ETA (28 Mar 2016):

Although space chess is never a terribly original idea for a story, I rather liked Curtis C. Chen’s “Zugwang.” While he definitely dwells a little too much on his heroine’s insecurities about her body, and things are tied up a little too neatly at the end of the tale, it was solid enough to get me to read his other two stories [in Up and Coming].

Bridget McKinney, SF Bluestocking

(original 512: "Zugzwang," posted 29 Mar 2013)

Thanks for reading!


Review Roundup: IT'S MACHINE CODE

Hello there, readers! It's been a while. Hope you've been well.

I meant to do a "one year later" sales/stats post about Thursday's Children, but clearly that hasn't happened. I have good excuses, though, and I'll be able to talk about them soon. SOON™

Meanwhile, I'm posting this to track reviews for a former 512 piece which became a longer story and was published this February! You might see some ETA's below as time goes on...

"It's Machine Code"

[This] is a light-hearted piece without much literal ass-kicking nor anger, but Julie Nickerson is great fun anyway. She’s a bored techie, a new Portland Deputy Police Officer (this issue of Unlikely Journal contains a disproportionate number of police procedurals) and small-time criminal who, in the course of a simple data-mining investigation, stumbles upon the machinations of a much more ambitious criminal.

Julie starts out as a bit a shlubb, the sort of civil servant who is made lazy by her intelligence and has very little interest in her job or her coworkers. She has an antagonistic relationship with her friend Victor that provides some funny lines and good banter, but there’s no real loyalty or affection between the two. Julie solves the story’s original case incidentally, off-page between scenes, while focusing her real energy on a very interesting data packet she found in the course of the investigation.

Julie’s not interested in catching any criminals: she’s much more interested in the crime. She’s casually competent, having “learned how to use military-grade encryption before learning how to ride a bicycle,” but stuck in the comfortable rut that casually competent people often get stuck in. In trying to solve the mystery of her data packet, she stumbles across a much more interesting character and some inspiration to become more interesting herself.

It wouldn’t be any fun to give away the mystery’s solution, but suffice to say this is a story that gets best right at the end. Julie, Victor, and their rather hapless department are fun in a bumbling kind of way, but they aren’t particularly motivated people. It takes a criminal mastermind to show how much fun it can be to go off script and just flip off the system. This story’s real star is the criminal.

Yah, you could be a comfortable civil servant. Or you could kick ass. “A clean desktop, a blank slate, a new life.”

Charlotte Ashley, Clavis Aurea #25 (Apex Magazine)

Julie Nickerson works in the IT Department of the Portland Municipal Police. She is assigned a request that came to them from the FBI. A traffic bot had stopped a car speeding almost fifty kilometers an hour over the speed limit. The bot pulled the car over but was put out of commission just as it had activated facial recognition overlay just as it approached the driver's side of the car. Along with another techie, Victor, they check a Universal Internet broadband router in a house (owned by a sweet grandmotherly type named Margie Fisher) near the incident. It might have recorded sensor reading from the downed bot. She discovers evidence of a felony by dear sweet Margie. But things take a wild turn at this point and make for a fun story.

Sam Tomaino, SFRevu

(original 512: "CSI: Computer Science Investigation," posted 11 Jan 2013)

Thanks for reading!