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Fiction: Morning Announcements

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“Attention Colony Citizens: We regret to inform you that the book signing scheduled for today at ten-hundred hours in Book Depot C, Helmets Off: What Colony Administration Doesn’t Want You To Know About The Great Brain Parasite Hoax by Clint Voss has been cancelled due to an unforeseen schedule conflict. We would like to apologize to Mr. Voss’s readers, and will announce a new date as soon as possible. Thank you, and have a wonderful day.”
“In an unrelated matter, would the Brain Parasite Decontamination Team please report to the C-Block Staging Center immediately for a routine meeting?”

This story originally appeared in Everyday Drabbles, a daily free fiction project on Wattpad. Visit the link for more free stories. And if you enjoyed this story, why not support my work by buying me a coffee?
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Hugh Likes Fiction: The Murderbot Diaries

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“All Systems Red”
“Artificial Condition”
“Rogue Protocol”
“Exit Strategy”
Written by Martha Wells
Read by Kevin R. Free
Published by tor.com

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The Skinny: A coming of age story told from the killer robots point of view.

In a corporation controlled far future, planetary exploration is considered so dangerous that terminator-like cyborgs called Sec Units are contracted to keep teams safe. Murderbot is one such sec unit, and they’ve recently hacked their own system to give themselves free will. They aren’t finding it as great as they had hoped they would, so they’ve decided to watch TV instead.
The Murderbot Diaries are a collection of four darkly funny novellas about what it means to be human. No, what it actually means to be human. After deactivating the module that demands compliance, Murderbot is free, but in order to not get scrapped, that mostly means they’re able to download endless hours of soap operas to their internal feed. Murderbot doesn’t want to be human, but as they investigate an incident involving an attack on his most recent clients, and their own redacted memory, they may find that they don’t have a choice.
The Murderbot Diaries are a very modern sort of robot story. It’s everything that Star Trek isn’t, with a dangerous, corporate-controlled life amongst the stars and a robotic protagonist that not only doesn’t want to be more human, but actively wants to be left alone. It delves into issues of neuro-diversity and the ubiquity of social media from interesting directions. Prickly, sarcastic Murderbot isn’t ‘likable,’ but they are certainly entertaining.
I listened to these books as a series of audiobooks read by Kevin R. Free. Free’s performance is outstanding, and he brings Murderbot and the other characters to life in a completely engaging way. These are short audiobooks, but this production makes them worth every credit.
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Fiction: The Last Tree

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The Last Tree stood in the center of the massive temple complex. Under a searingly bright dome of artificial blue sky, It seemed to glow from darkened entryway.
Julissa approached silently, as reverent as a nun, and knelt among the twisting roots of the towering oak. Its leaves, gold as autumn, made a soft carpet for her. She bent her head, reached out one hand to the rough bark, and murmured a prayer to the last living thing that had ever known the Earth.
A long time later, Julissa stood, and wept as she unhooked the axe from her belt.

This story was originally written as a part of Everyday Drabbles, a new free short fiction project I’m doing over on Wattpad. Each day in 2019 I will be writing and publishing a new free hundred-word short story. Please check it out, and let me know what you think!

Fiction: Space Detective

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Detective Orn Sa scanned the crowd, scowling with both mouths. One of the beings below him was Vaporite criminal Frizzion the master of disguise, and he only had one chance to find them before they blew up the station and sank the cause of interstellar peace for good. His only hope was to find some inconsistency… There! He shouted a warning and fired before they had time to transform.
“How did you spot me?” Frizzion gasped as Sa called for transport.
“You made two mistakes, Frizz. First, you made the fingers way too long. Second, most human adults wear clothes.”

Hugh Likes Fiction: The Calculating Stars

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The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel
Written by Mary Robinette Kowal
Audiobook read by the author
Audiobook published by Audible, Inc.

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The Skinny: A calculator fights to become an astronaut in an alternate 1950’s where a meteor has hit Earth.

The Calculating Stars is a rare and remarkable apocalyptic novel that focuses more on solutions than on breakdown. In an alternate 1952, Calculator Elma York and her husband (and lead engineer of the nascent space program) barely escape the devastation when a meteor strike wipes out the east coast of the United States. While she and her husband get back on their feet thanks to the kindness of strangers, she quickly begins to believe there is a bigger problem: The earth will soon be uninhabitable for humans. They get to work ramping up a space program to get humanity into space before it’s too late, but Elma soon reaches a problem: How can all of humanity go into space if only men are allowed to be astronauts?
An incisive, extremely hard SF novel, Kowal does a lot of neat tricks with this novel, a prequel to her award-winning novelette, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.” The author does an outstanding job of balancing the technical and social aspects of a novel. Dr. York can do orbital mechanics in her head and is a steady hand on a flight stick, but speaking in public terrifies her.
Kowal masterfully echoes the historical space race and civil rights movements as she lays out her story of Elma’s realizations of humanity’s fate, as well as what she comes to realize about herself and her society, and does what she can to change them. The story is essentially hopeful, but it never overlooks the inequality of American society.
The Calculating Stars is a brilliant Science Fiction novel about an alternate space program filled with unforgettable characters. I listened to the audiobook, read by Mary Robinette Kowal, and she brings her equal talent as a narrator to the text. You can find it in print, ebook and audiobook at Your Local Bookshop, Audible, and The Usual Suspects.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Subsurface Circular

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Subsurface Circular
Developed by Mike Bithell
Published by Anthill Games
Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny – A short but satisfying trip.

Subsurface Circular is an old-school concept in some flashy new clothes. Quintessentially at text adventure, players assume the role of a detective that works on a subway train for robots, the eponymous Subsurface Circular. When the character goes off-programming to help a Tek (the game’s term for Asimo-like sentient humanoid robots) You’ll question passengers to get to the bottom of a mystery at the heart of your unnamed future city.
Gameplay consists entirely of text boxes and dialog choices as you try and get to solve the case, as well as a few simple puzzles the game puts in your path. The train car and its riders are lovingly rendered in high def, and the game uses the Switch’s gyroscope to let you look around a bit, but it is all just set dressing for the text, as shiny and gorgeous as it looks.
The plot is certainly engaging, but Bithell released it as a part of a series of ‘shorts,’ and it is quite short. Even taking a leisurely pace, the game can easily be finished in a two-hour sitting. It is quite forgiving with the puzzles, and while you can make choices, they don’t seem to have much impact on the game, or create much in the way of replay value. While the economy of the resources is quite clever, I would have liked to have solved a few more mysteries, but the game is propelled by its plot to a quick end.
There is a quite cool Easter egg for fans of Bithell’s award-winning “Thomas Was Alone,” which I won’t spoil here, and the Teks are all both convincingly human and utterly alien looking. They’re breathtaking to watch. There is also a clever bit of design where the soundtrack to each chapter is provided by Teks wearing earphones, their too-loud music pushing out into the car alongside atmospheric sounds of air brakes and sliding doors.
At around five dollars, “Subsurface Circular” is well worth the price tag for an evening of Robot Noire on the loop line. It is available for Nintendo Switch as well as Steam and IOS devices.

Hugh Likes Fiction: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

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A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe
Written by Alex White
Published by Orbit

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The Skinny: Spaceship is Magic

Alex White’s new novel, A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is a seamless Sci-Fi/Fantasy adventure about the misfit crew of a smuggler ship caught in a galactic conspiracy. White is a remarkable stylistic juggler, matching magic and high-tech space opera in a believable, lived in universe filled with despicable anti-heroes you can’t help rooting for.
When well-to-do racing star Nilah Brio witnesses a bizarre murder on the track, her only hope may rest on the dubious shoulders of fighter pilot turned con-artist Elizabeth “Boots” Ellsworth. But after selling fraudulent treasure maps for years, have they stumbled on the real thing? And more importantly, can they avoid the powerful forces on their trail long enough to get it?
White’s novel is an action-packed thrill ride of an adventure novel. But what really impressed me is the well thought out universe White creates for his characters to bust their way through. The magic system is intricately crafted, and feels like a real part of the world rather than set dressing. The technology of the setting uses magic in a number of surprising and delightful ways. Each character has their own magic, of varying types, and they can use it like a signature, or to interact with technology, or even fire weapons. Everyone except Boots, that is, who is one of the rare people born without magic. It’s a nice bit of the story that builds the world and characters in interesting ways.
With this first novel, White offers us a character-focused look into a compelling fantasy future. Fans of Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet will find a lot to like in this scrappy crew of adventurers, with plenty of space-faring action and interplanetary politics to satisfy the most hard-core old school Space Opera fan. You can find A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe at your local independent bookstore, or from the usual digital suspects. I heartily recommend it.

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