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July 4, 2021

3 New Science Fiction Stories for Summer

by MK French

Have you been gazing at the stars this summer and dreaming of other worlds? A great thing about science fiction, it allows us to explore worlds that may be so different from our own that it is alien - even when it is set in a place similar to earth. Today, I have a novel and two short stories that come out this month that will transport to new worlds.

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We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

We Have Always Been Here
July 2021; DAW; 978-0756417291
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); sci-fi
The Deucalion is a large ship staffed by thirteen humans and thirteen androids, meant to explore a new planet for potential colonization. Psychologist Grace Park is meant to assess and treat the mental state of the humans, but she’s a bit misanthropic. She likes time with the androids better than the humans, and secrets abound. The tensions between the humans worsen when a radiation storm cuts off communication and isolates the ship. The androids act strangely, the people have nightmares, and perhaps nothing is as it seems.

We start with Park waking up after being dosed with emesis tablets. From this ignominious start, we see the tensions and secrets upfront. Park is a standoffish and not very personable character, for all that she’s a psychologist. It makes me wonder if she’s on the autism spectrum, as she categorizes and predicts behavior based on microexpressions, except that she doesn’t have odd ways of communicating and fully uses and understands figures of speech. I read her more as aromantic or asexual, as she has little interest in romantic relationships and categorizes that in others as physiological changes, and doesn’t readily consider others’ romantic lives. Park also tends to be standoffish to begin with, and the separation from the rest of the crew due to differences in her position and hire make it even more difficult to connect with others. We see this in language as well: she felt this, she thought that, she assumed something else. The distance in language, usually no-no in storytelling, works very well here. It puts us at a distance from Park’s innermost thoughts at times, much as the other characters are for her as well.

This oppressive kind of atmosphere builds over the next few chapters until the storm hits. Because we see things primarily from Park’s POV, and she was deliberately left in the dark regarding the mission, we learn fragments of truth as she does. We have to draw the same conclusions that she does until senior officers loop her in; even then, it’s not the whole story, and not until the final third of the novel that we truly get a sense of the planet, the people, the androids and what the company is looking for.

The novel poses the question what is humanity? There is also the question of consciousness, belonging, and the way that fear can other and isolate. This is science fiction, in that it’s an exploration ship and there are multiple colonies on multiple worlds outside of Earth, but these questions are the same regardless of time period and location. Despite the length that Park holds people, I still like her and wish her the best.


And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed

And What Can We Offer You Tonight
July 2021; Neon Hemlock Press; 978-1952086250
ebook, print (80 pages); short story
Jewel is a courtesan in a world where even a single mistake could lead to a government cull. When her friend is murdered by a client and somehow comes back to life, the two decide to take revenge.

As a novella, language is sparse and the ideas have to be compact. Still, Jewel takes her time telling us about her world, where people are chipped and sold, those without a use to society are erased, and even funeral rites aren’t always observed anymore. The dead are simply weighted and dumped in canals, their former spaces sanitized for someone else to take over. In this place, Winfield coming back from the dead is a nuisance at first, as there is no place to keep her. Jewel outright says it at one point: “They say that we are doing meaningful work: that we are generating profit, not everybody can do that you know, that we are employable, not everybody is that you know.” In this atmosphere, the wealthy can do whatever they like, including kill if they want to, and the poor have no recourse.

In this world, Winfield is the only recourse that any of the courtesans have for exacting justice when they’re abused. Jewel is afraid of losing what little comforts she has, but Winfield obviously has nothing to fear since she doesn’t officially exist. As the novella progresses, we see more of the casual cruelty in the world around Jewel and understand why Winfield’s actions upset the elite so much. She’s a victim as much as Winfield is, caught in the trap and unable to escape. It makes for an interesting conclusion; while some crimes are resolved, the structure of society as a whole can’t be erased. Jewel is caught up in the change, and hopefully with winter something positive will arise.

The Necessity of Stars by E. Catherine Tobler

The Necessity of Stars
July 2021; Neon Hemlock Press; 978-1952086182
ebook, print (80 pages); short story
Diplomat Bréone Hemmerli is slowly losing her memory but continues to negotiate peace. Tura arrives in Bréone’s Normandy garden, and can possibly help her move forward, even without her memories.

We begin this novella with a lyrical and otherworldly description of Tura and the interactions they have with Bréone. The world has undergone near-catastrophic changes, from the sea living rising six meters to land being difficult or impossible to farm. Some ecosystems escaped the global warming, but most could not. Even in this future, there are terrorist acts, an isolated UK from the rest of Europe, and the slow decline of memory, especially for someone living alone. Despite this, Bréone is still needed as a diplomat and still has the yearning to be needed and useful. Gradually, we get a picture of Tura and their species, as well as how they survive on earth.

Because of the memory loss, we have the same sense of timelessness that Bréone does. Which part of her tale is the present? Which is a fragment of memory? Which is a story she’s telling herself? It could be that large changes have to be made in the face of a changing world. It could be that alone, people can’t survive. Whichever your takeaway message, this is a haunting story that will make you ponder the meaning of identity.

Buy The Necessity of Stars at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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