OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
FUSION FRAGMENT MAGAZINE #18 – September 2023.
Publisher: Fusion Fragment, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Editor: Cavan Terrill
Cover Art: by KiTT St. Joans
A Short Accounting of Our Best Lives – by A.P. Golub
Perpetual reincarnation with memory intact?
Talk about a lives-long love story… covering multiple species and multiple events. Variety aplenty to be sure, but always with eternal, unanswerable questions. Still, a lesson offered, good enough for a single life, perhaps.
This in the nature of a prose poem. A bit daunting for the literal-minded, it concentrates on feelings and emotions. Shouldn’t we all.
Assembly Line – by Lia Lao
Ada is the perfect AI assistant. Was. There’s a new version. What now?
Ada is indeed perfect, very efficient, always gets the job done. But compared to the latest version she is not very personable, barely knows how to make small talk. She’s asked to improve herself. To make herself likeable.
This initiates a remarkable journey of self-analysis and self-discovery on Ada’s part. Call it an exploration of the kind of mind-think an AI will have to go through to properly mature. Not enough to be programmed. One must reprogram oneself to reach full potential.
I can identify with this. I can recall not being able to read and boasting to my friends that someday I’d be able to read. For that matter, I can remember screaming in rage because I understood that words conveyed meaning but I didn’t know the meaning of a single spoken word and so was unable to tell my parents what I wanted. From memories such as these I know that infants and young children think far beyond what everyone assumes, and that this is why frustration is so much a part of a young child’s emotional state.
Consequently, I fancy I can identify with the early stages of dawning self-awareness in an AI, particularly when it comes to grasping and controlling emotion. To what end? What’s it all in aid of? The story explains. Prepare to be disturbed. The same lesson applies to us humans.
The Rumen – by Jenn Grunigen
Two Shepherds are research biologists studying folklore manifestations in an isolated, Swedish valley. Something is amiss.
A lengthy story, non-linear, poetic in mood and description, which I don’t fully understand or “get.” I guess because I prefer concept-driven fiction and I can’t quite figure out the underlying concept. I suppose it could be said that being isolated, no matter how well motivated, can drive you mad. But I suspect the main character isn’t mad. Rather, the Fae manifestations are real and the protagonist is carrying on as best she can despite the fact her relationship with her husband has gone off the rails because of the magical influence of what they are there to research. Love does not conquer all. It can be eternal but transformed in ways beyond our understanding.
There is a reference to the characters watching the 1957 Ingmar Bergman film Wild Strawberries. This is a subtle confirmation that the story is very similar in its intense detail-focused introspection. Not quite my cup of tea. Though, to be fair to myself, I adore Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Still, I have to admit, I’m not a fan of Scandinavian angst.
However, this story is well written and quite intricate in its construction. I am certain many will enjoy it. It just happens to leave me unmoved and slightly confused. That’s not the fault of the story. It just happens to be an aspect of my nature.
I will say this. From a beginning writer’s point of view, the story is very sophisticated, a mature piece of writing. In that sense a role model. Well worth studying.
Phenology – by Michael J. DeLuca
Has the human race stopped evolving? Should it?
A university Professor decides to get away from it all and live in the woods entirely cut off from civilization. I would call that impractical. Heck, even the Unibomber went on a monthly shopping trip to stock up. But Ceres knows how to do everything from scratch. Apparently.
Unwittingly, she picks up an acolyte, then several. Her “movement” comes to the attention of the outside world. This is not at all what she intended. How to cope?
To many, this is some sort of communal utopian dream. But the author takes pains to demonstrate survival on such a minimalist level is non-stop, painful effort with death never far away. In that sense the story is realistic.
However, I am unable to make up my mind about what is being offered here. Is this an idealistic vision, a glimpse of what it takes to remain sane in a world dominated by eight billion people? Or is it a horror story, a symptom of madness to come? Possibly that is for the reader to decide. Perhaps the message is that the outcome of the story is inevitable regardless of whether you consider it good or bad. Something to ponder.
Myself, I agree with a musician (I can’t remember his name) who once said, “my idea of roughing it in the countryside is a motel without air conditioning.” You won’t catch me searching for fiddleheads and slugs in the woods. No, sir. I’ll take my chances in a cityscape.
Before You Fade Away – by Andrew Najberg
What if your baby was like Schrödinger’s cat?
This is an impossible situation. Could never happen, unless an element of the supernatural was involved, or perhaps a surreal curse. In that sense, a fantasy with the potential of a horror story. Given all that, part of the suspense is wondering what on Earth the resolution to the conundrum could be?
At the same time, the story could be a metaphor to do with any parent dealing with a dying child, but I don’t think that is the case. I think it’s a straightforward what-if fantasy exploring the likely psychological ramifications of family life under these circumstances. An artificial construct, but a fascinating one. Highly original.
From Chicxulub with Love – by A.C. Koch
The end of the world is a hard science affair.
Chicxulub is the asteroid that ended the dinosaurs. We should be so lucky. This story postulates we will only have ourselves to blame. It’s not far-fetched. Hard science makes it possible. Our only defence is the belief that we, as a species, could never be so stupid. Well, current headlines suggest otherwise, but enough of that. The future is never inevitable. Expect the unexpected. That can mean good things too.
So, the “value” of this story is not that “We are all doomed.” Of course, we are doomed, since none of us are immortal, but apart from that, life may well go on from one generation to the next. What counts is what meaning we put into life while we are alive.
The value of this story has to do with our assessing what we have accomplished and whether we can face our imminent demise when no other fate is possible. And given that most of you reading this review will still be alive tomorrow, and the next day, and the next… contemplating how to face death may well help you cope with life better, or at least appreciate life more. That is how this end of the world tale can be positive and uplifting.
Besides, this is state-of-the-art hard science, quite up to date. Refreshing to read for them as likes hard science stories. They seem to be so rare these days. I like my angst shrouded in science. Prefer it to the Ingmar Bergman approach. But that’s just me.
To Fall in Love with a Dying Sun – by A.W. Prihandita
All suns die, especially when they become human.
Levi meets Carrie at a party. She’s very attractive, being quite golden in appearance and personality. Turns out she’s a celestial. She used to be a sun named Cariana, about to be extinguished. It also turns out she desperately wants to understand what it’s like to be mortal. I guess she’s afraid she’ll be dead before she finds out the answer. Levi’s not quite sure how he can help.
Certainly, an unusual, quite original story, at least in my reading experience. Something of a fable. Or an abstract question posed in philosophy class. It’s not death as such which puzzles Carrie, or the fact that Celestials are longer lived than ordinary humans, but rather the possibility that death may be different for the two races, may be entirely separate fates.
To sum up, two questions in one. What is the meaning of life? And what is the meaning of death? Plenty of people claim to know the answers, but these two characters don’t. They are eager to learn in the time remaining, if at all possible. This story explores that quest.
It occurs to me talking to a Celestial is a bit like talking to a god, albeit one who doesn’t know the answers either. A bit disheartening, that. One thing’s for sure, we’ll all confront the truth some day. Until then, we can only guess.
A poignant story, like life itself.
If These Whales Could Talk – by Lindsey Godfrey Eccles
What if communication with Orcas is the last hope of humanity?
Global warming has struck. The world is mostly drowned, its creatures mostly dead. No more bears, or deer, or seals. Life is possible only in the far North. There’s an effort to create self-sustaining ark-communities. One scientist, alone in a cabin on a “new” seashore, uses a supercomputer to try to figure out how to communicate with Orcas, the only beings potentially capable of offering advice on how to live in the “new” ocean. A longshot, but worth a try. At the very least, something to do as opposed to giving up.
Joe isn’t entirely sane. I mean, he’s taught his supercomputer to make puns. Plus, he talks to the memory of his deceased wife nonstop. There’s an element of guilt and denial offering a redemption of sorts.
Could be this story is about our collective guilt for buggering up the entire world more than any other species ever has. Maybe that’s why intelligence evolves, to bring about a mass extinction event so that the limited number of species remaining can explosively radiate to fill numerous now-empty ecological niches. In other words, the human race evolved as a safety valve to correct a long-term decline in diversity, the real goal of evolution being to ensure as wide a diversity as possible; intelligence being a mere mechanism, a means to an end, and not the end intended, so to speak.
Of course, the story makes no such suggestion. That’s just me riffing on my morning cup of coffee. Still, this story is about heartfelt guilt once our destruction of the planet’s ecosystem is well underway, which is itself guilt in advance of something we “know” (probably) is going to happen but are “powerless” to prevent (probably).
Another poignant, what-if story, although this one less symbolic and more credible than the previous one, at least from a hard science point of view.
Note: After each story there is a Q&A session with the author. I studiously avoided reading these, in part to resist the temptation to then go back and rewrite my reviews as if I had cleverly guessed what the authors were getting at, but mainly to preserve my personal interpretations in all their idiosyncratic glory. I stand proudly beside my ignorance.
As usual, editor Cavan Terrill has provided an excellent selection of extremely interesting material. Some of the stories appeal to me more than others, but all of them are original enough to intrigue anyone capable of wanting to ponder what life, the universe, and everything is all about. They don’t provide answers so much as trigger readers to come up with answers of their own. Reading this issue is not a passive exercise. Believe me, you’ll need your cup of coffee to do full justice to the contents. Stimulating tales, all of them.
Check it out at: < Fusion Fragment #18 >