Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we’ve read that we wanted you to know about.
“Double or Nothing” by Alter S. Reiss (free at Daily Science Fiction, March 27, 2018)
A man has an android made that is an exact copy of himself, so the android can do all his work and tedious chores while the man enjoys his newfound free time. He’s actually not surprised when the android gets deeply annoyed with the system, though it is unfortunate (from the man’s point of view) that the man is naked in the bathtub when the android shows up with a gun.
This is, for lack of a better word, what I call a “cute” story. Not a lot there, but it’s well executed in how it plays with the doppelganger/android trope. The tone is casually humorous, nicely voiced, and the story is exactly as long as it should be. Any more and it would have sunk beneath its own weight. ~Bill Capossere
“They’re Made Out of Meat” by Terry Bisson (1990, free on the author’s website, originally published in Omni)
“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.”
This Nebula-nominated short story consists entirely of a conversation between two aliens, one of which is trying to convince the other ― who is completely incredulous ― that the planet they’ve found is inhabited by intelligent beings made out of … meat. And then the question is, what do you do with a planet full of talking meat?
“They’re Made Out of Meat” is very short and funny, but with a bite to its humor. I loved the creativity of the concept underlying the story. ~Tadiana Jones
“The Future of Work: Compulsory” by Martha Wells (2018, free at Wired magazine)
I hugely enjoyed reading the set of four MURDERBOT DIARIES novellas last year, so when I found that Martha Wells had published a prequel short story online in December, I was all over it like Murderbot on a new Sanctuary Moon video episode.
Murderbot, who is part human and part robot, oversees the human workers in a mine with dangerous conditions and callous management. Murderbot has just recently hacked its governor module, which requires it to obey the commands of the humans and AIs that are in charge. It idly contemplates killing all the humans, but mostly it’s interested in watching all the downloadable entertainment media, while using 2 percent of its attention to keep an eye on what’s going on with the human workers in the mine. But when a human worker is bumped off a platform and falls down a mine shaft, where she’ll be incinerated in 90 seconds, Murderbot finds itself unexpectedly taking action (“Apparently getting free will after having 93 percent of your behavior controlled for your entire existence will do weird things to your impulse control.”)
This is a very short story, more like a snippet or an episode than a stand-alone story, but it’s fun seeing the seeds of Murderbot’s future development in this story. I appreciated the unexpected title and its dark commentary on the labor situation in the mine (and perhaps the future of labor generally?). I also liked the nuance of the entertainment video that Murderbot was watching playing into the real-life storyline, influencing its thoughts and decisions. And any Murderbot is good Murderbot in my book! ~Tadiana Jones
“The Beguiling Baron” by A.C. Spahn (free at Daily Science Fiction, May 14, 2018)
In her author notes, A.C. Spahn notes that this story was inspired by the Two-Minute Mysteries series by Donald J. Sobol (I too was a fan once upon a year), and the story certainly has that feel to it. Two detectives (Faraday and Watt — cute names) are tied to two chairs in an old hall, and are being taunted by a cockatrice called the Baron, who reveals its plans to eradicate humans and raise paranormals to become “the apex predators of this world.” Faraday thinks Watt is one of those paranormals and hopes that whatever powers she has can save them, but when she says she’s just human like him, they have to find another way to escape.
As noted, Spahn does capture the tone of those old stories, and their escape method is clever, with a nicely humorous twist. Unfortunately, the cockatrice is more than a little clichéd, and while it’s certainly possible Spahn is just having fun with the classic over-the-top villain, even parodying it is so familiar nowadays that it’s still hard to do successfully. All in all, another “cute” story. ~ Bill Capossere
I did a little digging (read: ran a search for Spahn’s name with the Daily SF website search function) and found that A.C. Spahn has published a whole series of these Faraday and Watt mini-mysteries on Daily SF. It took me about 20-30 minutes to run through all 10 or 12 of them. Kind of like potato chips: hard to lay off once you get going on them. They did get a little stale after the first few. The one Bill reviewed above is one of the better ones; I enjoyed it more than he did.
ALL HAIL MURDERBOT