Forever Magazine is a new venture by Neil Clarke, editor of the esteemed Clarkesworld. He explains in the introduction to the first issue of the magazine that it is a monthly publication focused on previously published works, mostly from this (still new) century. Clarke is the entire staff of the magazine. The Kindle subscription price is currently $1.99 per month.
The first issue opens extremely well, with a novelette by Ken Liu, “The Regular,” about a serial killer who targets high-end prostitutes. Ruth is a freelance detective who is hired by the mother of one of the killer’s victims. The story is alternatively told from her viewpoint and that of the killer, which allows us to understand the killer’s motive and keeps us one step ahead of Ruth in figuring out how to catch this vicious man. Liu also addresses racial issues in his story, as is characteristic of his work. These issues do not necessarily power the story, but do add flavor and complexity to Ruth’s character. The traditional mystery structure to the story blends well with the futuristic technology that powers the plot for both viewpoint characters. The story makes me eager to get to Liu’s new novel, The Grace of Kings.
Of all the stories I read for this review, “The Fate of Mice” by Susan Palwick is my favorite. It is narrated by Rodney, a laboratory mouse whose intelligence has been artificially boosted by Dr. Krantor. Rodney not only has intelligence, but also electronic vocal cords so that he can communicate with the man who regularly makes him run mazes. Rodney has memories of a different kind of running, galloping with wind in his mane and the road against his hooves; that is, Rodney has memories of being a horse. Dr. Krantor tells him this is impossible, dismissing Rodney’s questions about reincarnation. It takes Dr. Krantor’s young daughter, Pippa, to realize that Rodney is remembering being one of Cinderella’s horses. And Rodney starts to have other memories: he remembers frightening an elephant, gnawing the ropes holding a lion to a stone table, being blind and running with two blind companions. And then one day Rodney has another memory: being a mouse named Algernon. What happened to Algernon, he wonders? He asks Pippa to find out. The story is very much one that only science fiction fans will really understand, harkening back as it does to Daniel Keyes’s marvelous “Flowers for Algernon,” which became the movie “Charly.” Palwick doesn’t go for the easy and obvious end for this story, but takes it somewhere else altogether, making this story more than an homage to Keyes and into a new tale in its own right. It’s excellent.
The final story in the first issue is “Firebrand” by Peter Watts. It opens with a startling sentence: “It had taken a while, but the voters were finally getting used to the idea of spontaneous human combustion.” What is making people go up in flames? The alcohol-industrial complex is working to make sure no one ever figures out the answer to that question. It employs a number of people whose only job is to come up with plausible reasons for the deaths, reasons that have nothing to do with the biofuel industry. But the truth will out, and then the question is: what will the population do about it? The answer isn’t as easily arrived at as you might expect. It’s a cynical story with a solid basis in history.
Issue 2 opens with “Dream Houses” by Genevieve Valentine. The first person narrator is Amadis, who is essentially a trucker — but a trucker in the days when “long-haul” means a ten-year trip out to the dwarf star Gliese and back, hauling supplies for a fledgling human colony. She’s made the trip a few times before, but this time something has gone very wrong. She has wakened prematurely from the deep sleep that was supposed to carry her for nine years of the voyage; she and the rest of the crew were to have been awake only for six months upon leaving Earth and six months before reaching Gliese. All the other crew members are dead. There isn’t enough food to last the voyage. And the artificial intelligence that powers the ship is keeping some very big secrets. The hard science fiction problems of long space flight and artificial intelligence are combined with the spooky haunted ship atmosphere of “Alien” and the softer science fiction concern of how a single person stays sane for years on end in solitude. I particularly enjoyed Amadis’s concern with music, and especially the complexities of vocal music; music which soothes and is also a metaphor for her loneliness. The use of music for this latter purpose, especially vocal music, is one of the more beautiful parts of the story. Valentine’s tale is longer than it needs to be to address its concerns, and, frustratingly, several issues remain unresolved by its end, but it is one of the best bits of hard science fiction I’ve read of late. A short interview with Valentine follows her story that mostly serves to point out some of her favorite short stories and work she has coming out soon.
“The Endangered Camp” by Ann Leckie is one I hate to tell you much about, because there are so many wonderful surprises, right from the start. It takes place when the dinosaurs were still at the top of the food chain on Earth, though this tale takes place in the vacuum of space between Earth and Mars. It’s a well-thought-out story of a civilization that is neither human nor alien, with rituals and practices carefully designed based on biological behavior.
Tobias S. Buckell and Karl Schroeder teamed up for “Mitigation,” which takes place in the Arctic after not only global warming but also attempts to avert the effects of global warming have irreversibly contaminated the world’s oceans. Chauncie St. Christie and Kulitak are attempting to make a living from the mess shooting CarbonJohnnies, devices intended to sequester carbon — not for the good of the Earth, but to make money from carbon credits. This is penny-ante stuff, though, and Maksim, Chauncie’s employer, has a better idea: Chauncie is to use a job as a bodyguard for a genetic archeologist visiting a seed vault to collect his own information on rare seeds. The story is dense with science as well as with action. It will require your full attention — but it will reward it, as well.
“The Wedding Album” by David Marusek is the novelette in Issue 3, and it’s a mindbender. Anne and Benjamin have just been married, and are posing for a professional simulacrum of them in their wedding finery, standing before a table of their gifts. Anne, from whose point of view the story is told, is unconditionally happy for one of the few times in her life, and is fending off a kiss from her new husband — they’re supposed to be holding still for the simographer — when she discovers that she isn’t the real Anne; she’s the simulacrum. It’s the perfect set-up for what follows, which is an exploration of the difficulties of distinguishing reality from illusion in the digital age, including whether there really is a difference any more. Marusek also explores who is a person and who isn’t; the morality of turning an intelligence off; and ultimately the rights of those persons who have been created through human technology. The story also looks at how a person’s emotional and mental health might be affected by the creation of copies of oneself, and how one’s emotions might affect those of one’s copy. The progression of technology over years, decades, centuries, and how the human body might change because of that technology, are also folder into the tale. It’s a complicated story, but Marusek handles all the threads with aplomb. There are sufficient ideas in this story to fuel half a dozen novels; reading it is the literary equivalent of watching fireworks. In his interview, Marusek explains that it took him years to write the novelette, which makes sense in light of how dense it is with ideas but light in the telling. It is no surprise that this novelette was on the Nebula ballot for works published in 1999, and won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.
“The Surface of Last Scattering” by Ken MacLeod is told by Conal, a young man who is about to meet Keith, his biological father, for the first time since he was three and a half years old. He has no memory of the man, who has been in prison for the past 15 years. Conal spent a chunk of his adolescence working on trying to get his father out of prison, but Keith would have none of it, telling Conal to drop it. We learn in a roundabout manner what futuristic crime Keith was accused of was, and why the crime was committed. It’s a tight, compact story, well-told.
Lauren Beukes, whose last two novels have impressed me greatly, has the last story in this issue, “Slipping.” Pearl and Tomislav, her promoter, have just arrived in Karachi, Pakistan, from South Africa so that Pearl can run in the Olympics. Pearl’s physician, Dr. Arturo, is also with them, for a very good reason: the legs on which Pearl will be running are artificial, operated through neurocircuitry. However, her legs aren’t the only part of Pearl that is different from the bodies you and I inhabit. The story of Pearl’s accident, her surgery, the technology that allows her to run, and how God fits into the picture is a nice combination of hard science and true emotion, showing how one woman reacts to extraordinary changes in her body, and what she does with them.
On the evidence of these three issues of Forever, I subscribed to the magazine. There wasn’t a single story out of the nine that did not impress me in some way. I imagine Clarke with all the best short fiction spread out before him, picking and choosing what most appeals to him and marveling at how much wonderful stuff is still available after he assembles each issue. I can’t wait to read the next one.
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