CLUBHOUSE: Review: Kasma Magazine presents: 10 Years of SF!

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OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.

Kasma Magazine Presents: 10 Years of SF!

Published in 2019 by Kasma Magazine, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Publisher and Editor: Alex Korovessis

Cover art: Jose Baetas

Note: Kasma Magazine has been publishing one story a month online since 2009. Stories are free for readers to download. New writers welcome. Stories between 1,000 and 5,000 words in length, sometimes longer. Kasma offers a flat rate of $25 CA per story.

Crossing Borders – by Tom Doyle

Premise:  

A Mati Hari “art whore” aboard a starship may trigger an interstellar war.

Review:  

Robyn paints with human and alien bodily fluids, an aspect of her relentless screwing of enemy agents. At first I thought “shock for the sake of shock” writing till I realised it was a logical extrapolation of the potentialities of alien contact, body augmentation, science-enhanced amorality, and politics-as-usual. Damned unsettling story, but genuine SF.

The Transmigration of Herekles Duncan – by D. Thomas Minton

Premise:  

The richest, most powerful and most heartless man in the solar system is about to get a new body. Only one thing disturbs him. Why did his victim volunteer?

Review:  

Intriguing glimpse of the logic of Darwinian Capitalism at its worst, with a satisfying resolution (depending on the reader’s politics).

Consequences of a Clockwork Theology – by C.J. Paget

Premise:

Bishop Mayer visits a commune suspected of harbouring a heretic cult. He is more than surprised by what he finds.

Review:  

At first the cult seems ill-defined and harmless. Then it becomes clear it functions on a precise and specific logic, one that is not at all original, but unlike its predecessors, rather dangerous if it harnesses the latest technological advances to realise the consequences of its remorseless logic. Not every commune is silly and quaint. A very effective horror story.

Sea of Photons – by T.L. Huchu

Premise:  

The archivist, alone in his vast spaceship, has studied the dying universe for billions of years. A visitor is the last thing he expected.

Review:  

That the archivist, setting out for his mission, was given tardigrade DNA is a very nifty detail. A lot of thought went into this portrayal of a being truly alone and no longer sure what he wants to do. Gotta feel sorry for him passing the time by watching newsreels of the million-year war. A clever and painful glimpse of what immortality is really like.

Tunguska – by Sean Patrick Hazlett

Premise:  

Kulik has a problem. As the sole survivor of the expedition to investigate the Tunguska impact crater he must deliver his oral report to Stalin personally. How will he survive the meeting?

Review:  

A hard science horror story suffused with Stalinist paranoia. Churchill once described the Soviet Union under Stalin as “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Pretty much applies to the task of figuring out how to tell Stalin something he doesn’t want to hear. Kulik sweats a lot. Fun story.

The Breath of Heaven – by Nancy Fulda

Premise:  

Four AI successfully eliminate the planetary colonists they were supposed to serve. Now the second colony ship is due to arrive. How to deal with the humans is a matter of some debate.

Review:  

One of the most terrifying modern myths is the idea that greater intelligence equals superior morality, be it the product of alien minds or artificial intelligence. In truth greater intelligence simply leads to a superior ability to rationalize any conceivable action good or bad. This story explores potential consequences in an excruciatingly rational manner.

Mistaken Identity – by Alan Baxter

Premise:  

Bob is a bit surprised when a giant of a man shoots a woman dead in front of him, then grabs him and drags him down an alley. The worst part is, the aggressive stranger seems to know him.

Review:  

At first I thought this was a variation of a well known movie, but in fact it turned out to be an exercise in “all is not what it seems” early Philip K. Dick-style paranoia. I enjoyed it for this very reason, though some might find it old-fashioned. I don’t care. I like old-fashioned SF.

Memory File #006 – by Alexis A. Hunter

Premise:  

Vicker has been on the list for transference to an immortal robot body for years. Finally it is his turn. Unfortunately the process allows only five memories to be retained. He thinks he chose wisely.

Review:  

A human brain in a robot body seems very cold. Best to keep the best memories of human warmth. But no guarantees in the warranty. Just immortality. Good enough? Or No?

The Galaxy’s Cube – by Jeremy Szal

Premise:  

Jharkrat makes a bare living in the offworld colony New Bangkok selling used computer parts. Someone sells him a black box. Turns out to be an AI from the first ship to land on the planet. Possessing a “mind” is absolutely forbidden. The penalty is death. He names the black box after his dead daughter.

Review:

The economy of a distant colony is a tricky thing. So very expensive to import. Consequently New Bangkok is one of those places where technology has largely slipped backwards to what local resources can provide, which isn’t much. That the administration survives at all is due to its absolute monopoly on what advanced tech still exists. Jharkrat’s box is potentially very lucrative for the knowledge it contains, but if anyone finds out he has it he’s a dead man. Worst of all, the box has a winning personality. He can’t help but view it as his daughter reborn. He has no one to turn to, so leaves all the important decisions to her.

All the Things We Gave You – by C.J. Paget

Premise:  

Fyodor is on the run from a remorseless enemy. Or was. Now he’s trapped aboard a passenger liner about to be assaulted by a different enemy, one of the factions of the warring moons. He can bribe his way into a berth aboard a small vessel heading to an asteroid ruled by a weird cult, but then what?

Review:  

Asteroid mining and colonies on the moons of Jupiter are a staple of classic SF, yet the effect of economics seldom enters into the stories. Resources are valuable in financial terms, yes, but more importantly they are finite. A resource used is a resource gone. If a colony utilizes its resources to train you to be a permanent asset, and then you leave for greener pastures elsewhere, small wonder they will hunt you down. A particularly interesting aspect of this story is how humans are tailored to suit the needs of a space colony economy and not vice versa. Exploitation is inevitable. Not much of a shining future after all.

Karlsson – by Anatoly Belilovsky

Premise:

The policeman isn’t getting along with his wife. Both of them are worried about their son Charlie. But more and more adults are imitating the cartoon character Karlsson who wears a big red propeller on his back and lives on rooftops and is everyone’s bestest friend. It’s easy to take them into custody because they think going to jail is a big adventure.

Review:

A gentle fantasy the meaning of which escapes me. Possibly something to do with the necessity to get in touch with your inner child in order to be able to communicate with your children. Or a plea to ban Soviet-era children’s cartoons? A commentary on the pervasive influence of cartoons in general? On our desperate need as adults to stop being adult? I remember that when I was a kid I could hardly wait to be an adult. I thought they had more fun. Once I was an adult I quickly learned otherwise and longed for the “carefree” days of my youth. Each of us carries our personal mythology like a ball and chain. This story might have something to do with that. One thing for sure. Being Karlsson is better than not being karlsson.

Perfect Match – by Steve Stanton

Premise:  

Shyla and Ryan are dirt poor. Shyla could sell her spare kidney, but that’s money in the bank and she was waiting for the price to peak. Ryan has already sold his extra kidney, plus an eye and a testicle, but they spent that income long ago. Could sell their two-year-old son, but they promised themselves they’d keep their third child. What to do?

Review:

A near-future dystopia where almost everyone lives at a bare subsistence level on the threshold of death. Definitely a post-consumer age. To make ends meet husbands routinely prostitute their wives. People have children in order to sell them. A good meal is a bowl of lentil soup and a glass of drinkable water. Thing is millions of people worldwide already live in extreme poverty in conditions as dire or worse. The only science fictional aspect of this story is that the poverty extends to the majority. Desperation is the new norm. How will we cope? Chances are we won’t. A grim vision.

The Floating Otherworld – by Tom Doyle

Premise:

Nolan is an American living and working in Tokyo. He wants to be Japanese but not even the lovely night-receptionist Kayagu-san sees him as anything more than a Gaijin, a foreigner. The O-bon festival in honour of the dead is underway. He can play no part. That night he gets drunk at a bar, then wanders aimlessly. He finds an inebriated Kayagu-san who invites him into a club he’s never heard of. The patrons take O-bon very seriously.

Review:  

Several times Nolan is confronted by strangers who refer to the latest killing of Japanese tourists in America. Eventually the shrine to the war dead is evoked and resentment over the atomic bombings spelled out. It seems America is a perpetually violent country which has yet to atone for its crimes, a country full of shameless people who feel no guilt. Despite a mild balancing act involving hints of Japanese war crimes, the essential message seems to be that the Americans are the bad guys in the Pacific war. A very unamerican story, so to speak.

On a more complex level, this horror fantasy meshing Japanese spiritual icons with everyday life condemns all war as a sick human behaviour creating far too many ghosts before their time. In a sense we humans warp the underworld from what it should be. At least, that’s the implication I see.

The story seems quite authentically Japanese in its point of view. However, my understanding is that Japan is a “shame” culture rather than a “guilt” culture, so the mix of shame and guilt embedded in the story makes me wonder how authentic? Then again, the combination reflects the unease of the clash of cultures. That the Japanese are into Elvis and Roy Orbison is certainly amusing, and possibly profound.

To sum up, a strikingly different perspective. Makes one think. If two human cultures have such difficulty understanding one another, how on earth are we ever going to get along with aliens? Probably best we never find out.

Penrose – by Ashanti Luke

Premise:

Penrose is an advanced household robot. Too advanced. He succeeded in keeping the raccoons out of the pantry, but then shuts down. So the family take him to a psychiatrist.

Review:  

Penrose is actually a low level AI. Most people, including the family, think he’s programmed to perform specific tasks. Not so. He’s programmed with a specific type of logic to enable him to perform expected tasks. But logic is a kind of Pandora’s box which can lead to unexpected results. To sum up, creating an AI is inevitably a be-careful-what-you-wish-for story. We’re better off without them.

Evolution’s End – by Lee Beavington

Premise:  

Three humans explore a planet. No life to be found, other than an ocean full of algae. How can a planet contain only one type of life form? Why haven’t algae-eaters evolved? Questions.

Review:

One of my favourite themes in science fiction is the discovery of an alien planet offering an enigma. In this case, biology gets the hard science treatment. Surely algae is nothing to get excited about. Even alien algae. Boring, right? Think again. Curiosity not always a useful trait.

Ad Block – by Ken Lui

Premise:

Jack Hill has invented a pair of glasses that filters out visual spam like billboards, advertising posters, etc. Michael Lane, a businessman with Buddhist training, is intrigued.

Review:  

A perceptive story dealing with layers of perception. I’m reminded of the 1988 John Carpenter movie “They Live” about a pair of glasses that reveals the horrible “truth” that aliens live among us. This is a more subtle reversal of the concept, in that glasses take away the frenetic distraction of Madison Avenue spam to reveal a calmer, saner world. But is that really what we want?

Coward’s Steel – by K.C. Ball

Premise:  

Tate is a post-apocalypse survivor. She doesn’t remember much about the old days, having been a mere child, but she remembers everything Jolene, her mentor, now deceased, had taught her. On discovering a small, pleasant community deep in the woods she enters seeking refuge and human contact. Surely breaking all of Jolene’s rules doesn’t matter given what the village has to offer?

Review:  

A sad fantasy to do with fate and magic. The ending took me by surprise. It requires magic to work, so not the usual dire end-of-the-world extrapolation of current trends so much as a mournful fairy tale. Well done but a tad downbeat. A vision of loneliness.

The Wayfarer – by Mitchell Edgeworth

Premise:  

DeBaecker can’t understand why his Bioship has beached itself. He only knows that it is dying. He sends his three-man crew off in a lifeboat to seek help from the flotilla. Later, with rations running out, he orders his nephew Parvo ashore hoping he will survive trekking through the desert to the nearest town. Then DaBecker settles down to die with his ship.

Review:  

An interesting glimpse of a dying earth ransacked of resources by aliens then placed under quarantine. Mankind struggles on, revenge never far from motive and intent. Even on a small scale.

That Tear Problem – by Natalia Theodoridou

Premise:  

Steve is an ex-paraplegic manning a geosynchronous space station all by himself. An experiment to see if sanity is an option. Maybe not.

Review:  

What is an ex-paraplegic? A man with artificial limbs. In this case a man who questions whether his limbs are real or not. Sometimes the ability to question is counter-productive. Reality has a way of being annoyingly confrontational. One should never think too much.

Nuclear Family – by Alex Shvartsman

Premise:

The family is having the best possible Christmas they can, given they are trapped in their basement bomb shelter. They are running low on supplies, but Dad has figured out a wonderful Christmas present for his son, even though it’s a bit silly.

Review:

Another old-fashioned SF story. Time has somewhat diluted the after-the-bomb concept, but this particular story would have had a major impact on readers in the early cold war. Short but powerful. Emotional, too. Brings back memories of childhood Cuban missile crisis fears. There was a time when people believed nothing short of a miracle could prevent this from happening.

The Uploaded – by C.J. Paget

Premise:

A dream realized at last. Instead of dying you can be uploaded and live forever in both reality and fantasy, the best of what human awareness and imagination has to offer. Now that their daughter has grown up, Martin feels it’s time to join his wife Trisha in the afterlife. From what they’ve shared in virtual reality, he already knows it is paradise.

Review:  

There are rich and powerful men who are pushing for humans and AI to be combined as the ultimate evolutionary step. This story explains logically and rationally why that’s not such a good idea.

A Man More Ordinary – by Manfred Gabriel

Premise:  

Dad is being cautious. His escaped criminal lunatic brother Phillip is at the door in the middle of the night demanding entrance. Dad hopes to talk him into leaving with out waking the family. The gun in the desk drawer is his last resort. Trouble is his brother does most of the talking, crazy stuff about alien abduction.

Review:  

Not believing in UFOs, I ordinarily have little patience for abduction stories, but this one is a clever variation, with some interesting ideas as to how aliens attempt to communicate. A criminal lunatic makes a lousy representative of the human race, or does he? What if he’s the ideal ambassador with the right sort of intent and logic? As usual, aliens beware.

The Dragon’s Lesson – by Matthew Johnson

Premise:  

Ramaad slays a dragon and gains its treasure. Then his troubles truly begin.

Review:

A moral fable illustrating how wealth can be a curse. It’s not so much greed at fault as raised expectations. Many a dictator knows poverty prevents unrest. It’s when people begin to hope that regimes fall.

What I like about this tale is the unusual definition of Dragon’s treasure. Never come across it before. Strikes me as innovative and original.

Images Across a Shattered Sea – by Stewart C. Baker

Premise:

In a post-war landscape where humans live underground Fatima dares to surface and capture a message ball from the dead civilization of the past. This ball is different. It is watching her. To whom is it reporting? And when?

Review:  

Is the past attempting to manipulate the present? Dare the present manipulate the past? Wouldn’t it be better to leave the time stream alone?

Hull Breach – by Robert Drake

Premise:  

Earth has become a tyrant to the colonies. A small ship (tiny enough not to trigger the defences) is sent to destroy the Earth, but something goes wrong and the ship self-destructs. An Earth salvage ship begins recovering the wreckage, its commander hoping to find the colonist ship’s log to determine why the vessel had entered the inner Solar System.

Review:

At first the story seems an excuse for a debate on the topics of military duty and genocide. What makes this intriguing is a totally unexpected and clever ending betraying the reader’s assumptions to add fresh insight to the debate. Very satisfying. Am quite pleased with the author’s ingenuity.

CONCLUSION:

Never having read Kasma Magazine I didn’t know what to expect. The high quality of the stories is a revelation. Not literary exactly, but many of them ripping good yarns, entertaining, and the least of them quite interesting. A delightful anthology. Well worth reading.

Check it out at:    < Ten years of Kasma >

Check out the magazine at < www.kasmamagazine.com >

 

 

 

 

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