The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist, by S.L. Huang

In a modern interpretation of the epistolary novel, S.L. Huang’s 2016 novella, The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist examines one of the oldest unknowns, the vast depths of our own ocean system.  Drawing from myths of mermaids as old as sea travel, this story is one of first contact, politics, and, in its way, love.

Told from the perspective of Cadence Mbella by some  unknown writer, it is made up of recordings of her own subvocalizations during the time that she attempts contact with a recently discovered species of intelligent sea creatures who leave so deep in the ocean that they can’t even see, but communicate and sense in other ways.  But something goes wrong when a militarized group attempts to circumvent her research and instead kidnap one of the so-called mermaids.

This sets off a series of events that eventually leads Dr. Mbella back to the sea, to discover, as deeply as a human can, the extent of the Atargati way of life.

Despite its short length, the novella manages to present the reader with a lot to consider; from its in medias res beginning to its heartbreaking and eye-opening conclusion, the language Huang uses to tell the story is some of the most evocative in the contemporary SF canon.  This is one of those stories that redefines what it is to be human, what science is, and how we think about myth and culture.

Fast Fiction: Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience, by Rebecca Roanhorse

From Issue 99 of Apex Magazine, “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” is a story about settlers, written for Natives.  But also the kind of story that settlers need to read.  I say written for Natives because although it’s a story, with a beginning, middle, end, climax, etc, it’s also an experience in itself, and probably cathartic in a “finally someone gets it” way.  But of course Roanhorse would, being that it’s part of an own voices “special” issue.

Written from the point of view of an Indian (using this terminology because the story does), but in second person present, it walks the reader through a metaphorical (and yet all-too-real) journey through appropriation–not only of cultural accouterments, but of land, life, peace of mind, happiness.  It’s a story of what happens when those outside a culture get to define that culture, and is written with the world-weary feeling that accompanies knowing it’s happened over and over, for so many, and will go on happening.

Personally, I look forward to reading the rest of the stories in Apex 99 and wish they’d go out of their way to publish more like it.  But being the kind of magazine that attracts submissions like this might be something Apex isn’t up to.  I don’t know yet, as I’ve only had a subscription for a few months.  But we’ll see.


Fast Fiction: The Turing Machines of Babel, by Eric Schwitzgebel

I just finished this embrace of the ridiculous, Alice-through-the-looking-glass piece of short fiction called “The Turing Machines of Babel,” written by Eric Schwitzgebel, published by Apex Magazine.

As a thought experiment, yes, it was interesting, and had all the appropriate start from nothing, build up to everything stepping stones one expects in a story that is really more an exploration of a concept than an actual story.  It is, I suppose, a philosophical exploration of the concept of existence, the kind of highly deep thinking every teenager engages in where one accepts the possibility that everything we take as real is just an illusion.

I read a short story last year by a Japanese writer that posited a cylindrical world in which one person decides they want to reach the top and find out who are the gods that every so often come through and destroy swathes of their supposed world.  At least it had less navel-gazing than the guy taking credit for all the women in his life who worked hard to figure out what the rabbits in “The Turing Machines of Babel” were doing, and how to program them.

About half-way into this story I got a serious Name of the Wind vibe from it.  A man who assigns himself to a quest, believes he knows better than everyone what is going on, collects accolades for basically doing nothing, and is shown to be much less useful than the women in his life, who for some reason shower their excellence on him instead of just going out and doing for themselves.

Maybe it was the author’s intention to explore the extreme self-centeredness of men, who believe entire made up worlds revolve around them.

Probably not, though.