Recent short fiction reads

Li Jing is unique. Even from infancy, it was clear her skin would never be mantled with marble, and that her eyes would never be replaced by glass, her bones wood. At fifteen, no signage inked itself on her flesh, as it did others’, no portent of architectural occupation.

It complicated her relationships, of course. By the time Li Jing was wise enough to court partnership, city-sickness had become pandemic, so widespread that humanity was forced to leaven it into normalcy. One by one, proponents mushroomed from the carcass of fear, oozing grand ideas: why was this disease so terrible? Did it not provide a concrete immortality?

Consequently, few became willing to stomach a lover whose lifespan could be measured in decades. Death was never easy, but it was infinitely harder when you knew you would never walk the halls of your beloved, would never laze on their moon-drenched balconies.

‘In the Rustle of Pages’ by Cassandra Khaw (Shimmer, 2015). Mortality, old age, and architecture as transformative contamination. Also family and generational difficulties. This one’s great.

Jake acquired his target as soon as he stepped into the cafeteria. For the good of the war, he had passed without a trace through forests and mountains to reconnoiter and assassinate. For the good of the subsequent peace, Jake now needed to have lunch with a random stranger and emulate a human being.

The target sat by himself at a table in the corner, staring at his tablet. His lunch sat untouched, his chopsticks clearly unused. Slices of poached chicken breast lay on a bed of brown rice next to a pile of kimchi. The soy sauce and star anise of the poaching liquid and the spicy salty tang of the kimchi no one else seemed to notice hit Jake from across the room. Far more interesting than four slices of cheese pizza. Grease pooled in tiny orange circles on Jake’s slices and soaked through the paper plate onto his hands.

‘勢孤取和’ by John Chu (Lightspeed, 2015). Neat military SF that reminds me a bit of All You Need is Kill, with cool ideas.

The station’s darkness is always warm, always faintly redolent with rubber, charcoal, ammonia. The air is clean, antiseptic despite the rust that streaks the station’s innermost walls, and tonight carries the sound—the voice that is not a voice. It reminds me of whale song, a distant rumble moving through the station as though the station were water; but the station is not water, nor is it submerged beneath any ocean. I unstrap myself from the sleep pocket and float to the nook’s window.

Jupiter, swollen. So orange against the black of space, so large as to almost occupy the entire window. Space is only a slim crescent along the planet’s brightening rim. I have worked on Galileo Station harvesting helium for twelve years, and the view never grows old; Jupiter never grows old with its ceaseless storms, new designs constantly wrought within its cloud layers. The red spot spun itself out in our sixth year, the storm succumbing to another that is the colors of Earth’s seas: teal and turquoise, indigo and lapis. Sometimes, when the sunlight angles across, the storm shines like a great opal, cracked with orange lightning.

‘Somewhere I Have Never Traveled (Third Sound Remix)’ by E. Catherine Tobler (Clarkesworld, 2015). Atmospheric, foreboding, hard(ish) SF that makes me think of Lem’s Solaris.