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Signs Over the Pacific and Other Stories, by R. J. Astruc

Signs Over the Pacific and Other Stories, review copy provided by Upper Rubber Boot Books.

Some years ago I read an interview with an author–I wish I remembered who it was–wherein the interviewer asked, “What question do you get asked most about your books?”, and the answer, repeated frequently by the author’s mother, was, “Why don’t you write about nice people?” I don’t know Astruc’s mother, so I don’t know if she’s prone to asking that sort of question, but she certainly could. There are zero teddy bears having zero picnics in this book, and in fact I am now a little frightened that Astruc will see this comment and write a story about a teddy bear picnic of betrayal, greed, and casual experimentation on live subjects.

But apparently, much to everyone’s surprise, I am not greatly attached to niceness. I read every story in this collection, not skimming or skipping any of them, which is way above average for a short story collection and even farther above average for a short story collection I didn’t seek out because of great familiarity with the author’s work. What Astruc has done here is to create a future setting that feels internally coherent, and that feels like it stretches further. Each piece adds to the whole rather than clashing. Rather than an antiseptic view of freshly evolved artificial life, Astruc starts out giving us silicon red in tooth and claw–and then it becomes clear with each story (human or AI-focused) that the type of intelligence that has evolved fits perfectly with the rest of the milieu. Some of the stories were very short, hardly more than vignettes, and others took more time to explore and establish the setting and characters.

These stories won’t be to everyone’s taste; nothing is. But they’re very well-handled and doing something that will probably appeal to people who wanted to like Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, whether they found that work successful or not.

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