Saturday, March 30, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Rich Larson

I am surprised that the first story I review here is from 2015. Rich Larson has been publishing stories with Robert Reed-like frequency -- and also with Reed-like quality and range, since 2012 or so. His first novel, Annex, appeared last year. Today is his birthday -- I haven't checked how old he is, but I have a feeling he's younger than my kids! [Okay, I checked -- he's younger than my daughter, but (slightly) older than my son.] Here is a selection of my reviews of his short work, a remarkable set of stories.

Locus, April 2015

Beneath Ceaseless Skies' issue of February 5 has two strong stories. “The King in the Cathedral”, by Rich Larson, features an exiled royal brother, and his automaton guard, playing endless games in the desert until a woman sent as a temptation to him offers instead to help him escape. She hopes he will take the crown back from the usurper – but he is getting old, and not terribly interested in the burdens of rule (and gay anyway, so unswayed by her temptations). The story is in its outlines and even resolution quite familiar, but Larson's telling, and the little variations he plays, make it work.

Locus, February 2015

Rich Larson continues to impress with a nice variety of SF and fantasy stories in his newish career, and I quite liked “The Delusive Cartographer”, in the November 24 issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Crane and Gilchrist come to an island prison in search of a map that a dying cartographer suggests is in the cell with a certain prisoner. The map perhaps leads to treasure, though for the cartographer it brought him only, we learn, to shipwreck and prison time. We follow Crane’s disguise as a prisoner, and his attempts to get to the map, while Gilchrist waits with the cartographer, and learns his real story. Neat fairly traditional cynically-toned fantasy in a mode somewhat resembling Joe Abercrombie or perhaps Scott Lynch.

Locus, April 2016

In Lightspeed’s March issue I liked a sweet romantic story by Rich Larson, “Sparks Fly”, in which the fantastical element is that a significant amount of people, including the protagonist, are “sparkheads”, who cause anything electronic to fail in their presence, at least when they lose control. Of course, emotions engendered in a romantic relationship make maintaining control a challenge – certainly for Arthur. Not to mention his worry about rejection. So his date with Christina goes swimmingly – but he won’t tell her his issue, and he tries to keep himself under control, until, well, “sparks fly”. It’s not the deepest of stories, but it’s sweet and fun and another indication that Larson has not just talent but considerable range.

Locus, July 2016

Finally, the best piece in the May-June F&SF might be “The Nostalgia Calculator”, by Rich Larson, which posits that the cycle of nostalgia is spiraling up, so that people are becoming nostalgic sooner about more recent things. It turns out this is a bad thing, especially when used by corporations for evil, as Noel finds out when while working for his Uncle’s company notices the problem and tries to take (clumsy) action. Clever Galaxyish stuff.

In Clarkesworld there are as usual a couple of strong stories. Rich Larson’s “Jonas and the Fox” is a fine story set on a colonized planet that has just been through a revolution. Jonas is a young boy and the Fox is his brother – sort of – we learn quickly that the brother died but that the recorded mind of an aristocrat, on the run from the revolutionary authorities, has been implanted in his. The story turns on a chance for true escape for the Fox, and on who really needs the opportunity. The furniture is, to be sure, fairly familiar, but the execution is strong, and the conclusion emotionally convincing.

Clockwork Phoenix is back, and its fifth number is another tasty mix of stories that test the borders of genre. So my favorite story, again from Rich Larson (author of the month, for sure!), is really pure SF, though weird enough to fit in. “Innumerable Glittering Lights” is about the battle of a scientist to keep his investigations going while dealing with cynical and budget-conscious politicians and radical know-nothings. So far, so familiar – and, indeed, the conceptual revelation, that this story is set among intelligent sea creatures under an ice sheet, is really fairly familiar. But Larson executes it well – the names (Four Warm Currents, Six Bubbling Thermals, etc.) are a nice touch, and the milieu is believable: and the conclusion really nails it.

Locus, August 2016

Rich Larson’s “Masked” (Asimov's, July) perhaps extrapolates just a tad more, as three rather privileged girls get together after one of them has had to have a “virus” removed from her social interaction software – software that controls her “Face”, quite literally in that it affects how others see her, and also affects what she sees of the world and news and gossip. The moral is kind of obvious from the word go – as indeed it is in Cypess’ story. So these are nice and effective stories, but not surprising enough to be more than “nice”.

Locus, December 2016

The Asimov’s Double Issue for November/December includes yet another strong story from Rich Larson. “Water Scorpions” is about Noel and his new “brother”, Danny, who is actually an alien child, rescued from a ship that has crash-landed in Chad. Noel’s mother is a xenobiologist working with the aliens, and somehow Danny has bonded with her. Noel resents this, perhaps mostly because he associated Danny’s arrival with his dead sister, and the story plays out as a sad character-driven piece, about two lost children.

Locus, January 2017

In the November/December Interzone, who should turn up but Rich Larson! “You Make Pattaya” is a fine caper story. Dorian is a grifter in the tourist town of Pattaya, Thailand. He concocts a scheme with a prostitute he’s taken a bit of a fancy to, involving blackmailing a pop star in Thailand on a sex vacation. The story is straightforward and slick noirish near-future crime, with minimal but well-placed SFnal elements (a bit of gender ambiguity, some plausible surveillance tech).

Locus, April 2017

Two other stories I liked in the March-April Asimov's are both, in very different ways, about the future of dating. The more cynical is “Cupido”, by Rich Larson, about Marcel, who makes a living by creating tailored pheromones, that will cause the targeted person to fall in lust with Marcel’s client. Marcel himself has a pretty sad love life, and so the story turns on what happens when he falls for one of his “targets”. The moral issues here are straightforward – and Larson navigates them effectively.

Locus, September 2017

Rich Larson is back as well in the July-August Asimov's, showing off his stylish caper/adventure mode. “An Evening with Severyn Grimes” concerns Girasol, who has gotten involved with a radical group (sort of Occupy ramped up to full terrorist mode). She has agreed to help them kidnap Severyn Grimes, a very rich man who can afford to download his mind into young bodies. So far, so familiar, but the story goes in interesting directions, not taking any hackneyed sides, and also features some cool tech, as Girasol can download her own consciousness, dangerously, into intelligent systems. Girasol has her own motives, of course, if no very clear path to realizing them. The story is fast-paced, intelligent, and exciting.

Locus, October 2017

Apex in July features another new Rich Larson story, “L’Appel du Vide”, a solid thriller in which Pau, who is working on a promising project for Ceylan Industries is kidnapped – even though his brain is locked down in way that nothing can be extracted from it. He eventually learns who his kidnapper is, which leads to the rather wrenching motive, predictably closely tied to the nature of the research project. By this time experienced readers can more or less plot the rest of the story – but that doesn’t matter all that much, as Larson, if indeed working familiar territory, handles things very well.

Locus, January 2018

The really exciting news in the magazine field is the long-anticipated Omni revival, with Ellen Datlow returning as fiction editor. The first issue has a time travel theme, for both the nonfiction and the fiction. Rich Larson’s “Verweile Doch (But Linger)” is a fine story about a man who can freeze time. Cesar has used this ability throughout it adolescence and early adult years to help him come up with neat comebacks or to steal money, but he is tortured by his failure to save his mother from an accident – and, it becomes clear, to have a real relationship with two other women: his sister, and a high school crush. Solid work.

Locus, April 2018

The 2/15 issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies had a couple of intriguing pieces. Rich Larson’s “Penitents” portrays a wholly ruined future Earth, in which the more privileged live underground. Mara is one of those, and she’s come to the surface with the help of the wily Scout, to try to rescue her friend Io from the spooky alien creatures who have captured her – it seems these aliens attach to humans they find on the surface and, apparently, take over their minds and send them on forced marches. But Scout knows how alluring the attraction of these aliens is – and Mara eventually learns just why, which gives the story (and its title) its moral point.

Locus, May 2018

In Asimov’s for March-April I was most impressed with a few of the shorter stories. Rich Larson’s “In Event of Moon Disaster” is fine work about a two-person team investigating a mysterious crevasse on the Moon, when all of a sudden a second copy of one the team members appears – followed by a third, and so on. There are obvious existential questions here (echoes of course of Rogue Moon!), but also practical questions, as their shuttle can only take so many people.

Locus, June 2018

Clarkesworld’s April issue includes a somewhat simple but really effective story from Rich Larson, “Carouseling”. Ostap is an artist, and his lover Alyce is a physicist. She and her team are in Mombasa, ready for a major experiment involving something called the Slip. While they’re apart, they use a virtual reality sort of system, linkwear, which allows them a semblance of conflict, even to the point of dancing. Ostap wants to ask her to marry him, but it’s not fair right before the experiment – but he does suggest she brink the linkwear with her to the lab. I think the reader can see where this is going – the experiment is a disaster, and the lab destroyed with no survivors – and Ostap is devastated, but – well, as I said, the next revelation is obvious. Larson handles it beautifully and steers the story to a proper and touching ending.

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