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THEY ARE SMOL

They Are Smol Makes Me Lol

By J.Y.H. Zhu, author of Bard’s Log

Aug 20, 2019: Get ready for some witty dialogue with hilarious exchanges like, oh, scoffing at a system’s lack of suns. The writing is razor-sharp, and humbling. As if these were the thousands of words spoken by the infamous image of the pale blue dot that is our planet. They are Smol is a clever Lovecraftian comedy that’s tons of fun while staying true to the sci-fi genre, and that’s no smol feat.

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THE FINAL FEW

The Disappointment Is When You Are Finished

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

May 9, 2019: Once upon a time in a place called England, a man named Peter F. Hamilton was born. He proceeded to write some of the greatest high-concept space opera stuff that has ever been written. Johiah’s The Final Few is not yet something at quite that caliber, but based on the parts currently available it’s very close. This is a science fantasy work which I’ll probably be checking for updates on a compulsive basis, and that’s an uncommon deviation from my binge-then-leave-then-return ways. There are occasional hiccups in the use of punctuation a la leaving sentences un-perioded, but occasional enough that without the work right before me it’s hard to remember.

Confession time: I’m a person for whom a good central conceit can prove amply satisfactory on its own (see David Weber’s Safehold series). In that spirit, The Final Few rockets out of the starting block with the sort-of adventures of the stinkin’ big spaceship Musteon and its many passengers. When the technological singularity fairy has come to all the good girls and boys of Sol 3, that’s usually it in many stories. They’ve come to a point of at least contextual nonscarcity of many of life’s good things. The tyranny of age has been cut down. However . . . what if the miracle mass-energy source of the future was quasi-psionic emotive stuff, used for everything from making Human 2.0 models to powering the gas burner . . . and the whole galaxy went dry? Answer: Andromeda road trip! This is set against a background raised by a person whose sci-fi chops are strong indeed without being overly abstruse. Metamaterials, yes; macrocellular clusters being introduced to the human genome and only explaining what that actually means fifty hours in, no.

At time of posting there’s a slightly saddeningly small amount acually available, but it’s already managed to frame politics, character, some of the essential in-house physics, nomenclature, philosophy, history, and good old pioneering. That’s a lot for three chapters plus two asides to manage and competently manage at that. To be sure, the chapters seem to be coming out more slowly than the reader might like, but that would still be true if they popped out on a daily basis. Time spent buffing up the shine here is very worthwhile. The main characters require the reader to go through the brain-shift of how a person thinks when they’re part of a highly advanced society, but their interactions are framed against a universally recognizable plight. These people are learning to swim in the ocean, and they can’t just turn their boat around to good old Earth and call a mulligan. No, they’re on an adventure: someone else undergoing the rigors of tears and shouting and thinking very hard about whether they ought to eat that third slice of cake, far away from both us and everything they’ve known.

In case it’s not clear: tiny scuffs on a very shiny chassis, and the biggest disappointment is that this car’s not complete yet. To change metaphors, take a bite – you’ll probably like how it tastes.

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JUNCTION POINT

Here, We Articulate Beautiful Minds

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

May 2, 2019: Junction Point is a special little experience which I loved and most will either really really enjoy or find distinctly lacking. It’s a tale of an academic bent, with many trappings of Western storytelling either mutated or outright substituted. Don’t read this if you’re looking for a different take on the Hero’s Journey. For that matter, there’s virtually no conflict of any sort for a very long time, aside from the always-implicit sense of danger when one’s setting is outside a known habitable planet’s atmosphere.

Instead, Junction Point is a very specific kind of affair. Following Ms. Liu and crew, you’ll more than likely pick up some amount of novel exposure and knowledge in the realms of astrophysics or xenology. You won’t probably find yourself really falling in love with the cast. It has a take-it-as-it-is kind of feeling in many respects. The one major deviation from this pattern comes in the attempt to really evoke the idea of thinking living creatures as stargazers: that feeling of looking up at night and feeling the weight and majesty of an upended ocean. Perhaps the goal is to push the reader into once again embracing that first time they saw the heavens at midnight, and the artificiality of words just couldn’t cut it. If so, it does pretty well even for a person such as myself, whose wordless-awe quotient is fairly anemic of late.

The characters involved all essentially have a single shared goal: learn. It means that linguist Liu is supposed to be gathering information on a mysterious something-or-other of apparently sentient origin. She isn’t concerned with mounting phase cannon arrays or trying to save the Earth from being glassed by solar flare. In fact, as becomes clear when the aliens finally appear on the horizon, the whole point of the endeavor is to take two fundamentally different somethings and reconcile them: mind to mind, perspective to perspective, story to story. Ultimately, isn’t that the whole point of writing for that matter? To take what is in one brain and ferry it to another despite the adversity of communication? Junction Point has both a highly clinical skin and a philosophical soul, and Thuktun Flishithy obviously has skill with giving voice to a work of this kind. If a sequel to this should ever appear on the horizon, I for one will be paying close attention.

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