Sunday, October 30, 2022

Do-Ye0n Performs a Cost-Benefit Analysis, by Mark Niemann-Ross

"Do-Ye0n Performs a Cost-Benefit Analysis on a Career Based on Questionable Activities," by Mark Niemann-Ross, in Crooked 2,  edited by Jessie Kwak, Bad Intentions Press, 2022.

Oddly enough, this is the second story I reviewed this month which qualifies as science fiction.  Both are set in the near future and involve a society in which one's access to resources is strictly regimented by one's activities.  

In Thielman's story your ability to progress depends on your perceived good citizenship. In Niemann-Ross's world it depends on what job you can get.

And Do-Ye0n is stuck at Level One because of a screw-up he made at his last position.  His automated job coach tells him he can get a job in "corporate network penetrative testing," which is to say ransomware.  

It is highly lucrative, and legal.  Well, sort of legal.  Unless some agency, or some other entity decides it would be better to make it temporarily illegal...

Robert Heinlein wrote a novella called "If This Goes On--" and that is one of my favorite types of science fiction: the one that extrapolates from what the author sees as a growing trend in our society.  Niemann-Ross has written an interesting example.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

The Relentless Flow of the Amazon, by Jonathan Stone

"The Relentless Flow of the Amazon," by Jonathan Stone, in Mystery Writers of America Presents: Crime Hits Home,  edited by S.J. Rozan, Hanover Square Press, 2022.

I have said before that sometimes a story begins so strongly, with fine writing and a clever concept, that by the end of the first page I am rooting for the writer: Don't screw this up.  We have an example of that today.

It is the beginning of the great lockdown, "the time of boxes.  Everything delivered." Annie and Tom,  new to their suburban neighborhood, are getting tons of boxes which they leave in their garage to give the virus time to wander off.

One day they get an Amazon box they are not expecting.  It contains two plastic but clearly real guns.  How the hell did that get delivered?  Why?  Should Annie and Tom tell the cops, trying to explain what happened?  And who wants cops wandering around their house, breathing their bugs on them?

Maybe they can just put the guns away and forget about them. Besides, as Tom points out, it's not like there's any ammunition.

I bet you can guess what arrives in the next load of packages.

Things get wilder and I won't give anything away.  I had a ball.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Cost of Something Priceless, by Elizabeth Zelvin

"The Cost of Something Priceless," by Elizabeth Zelvin, in Jewish Noir II, edited by Kenneth Wishnia and Chantelle Aimee Osman, PM Press, 2022.

This is the second appearance here by my fellow SleuthSayer. Zelvin has written other novels and stories about the Mendozas, a fictional family of Sephardic Jews, some of whom sailed with Columbus. 

 And this tale combines two generations widely divided by time.  The story begins as a letter from a modern Mendoza bequeathing to her granddaughter the family's most precious treasures: a necklace and the documents proving it belongs to them.  But there is a lot more to her history than that.

Intertwined with this tale is the third-person story of how Rachel Mendoza really acquired the necklace half a millennium ago.  Let's say that both women found their way through considerable difficulties.

My favorite part of the story is Grandma trying to explain life in the 1950s to her grandchild, and especially what it meant for her to marry a WASP.

People say so glibly that two people come from different worlds.  Everyone said it about Foster and me.  I laughed it off.  I had no idea what it meant.  Take "going to Princeton."  When a Jewish boy went to New York went to Princeton, it meant he was exceptionally smart.  He'd competed successfully in academics, athletics, and an array of showy "extracurricular activities," to make the extremely small quota of New York Jews the university was prepared to tolerate.  When Foster Gale Bentbridge IV went to Princeton, it means that Foster Gale Bentbridge I, II, and III had gone to Princeton. Period.

A skillful story with a powerful ending.


Sunday, October 9, 2022

Future Tense, by Mark Thielman

"Future Tense," by Mark Thielman, in Black Cat Magazine, #57. 2022. 

This marks the eighth appearance by my fellow SleuthSayer, Mark Thielman, this time with a story set in the near future.  I assume it was inspired by this program.

Terran Korb and his pregnant wife want to move to a better apartment in a safer neighborhood.  But that requires more Citizenship Points.  The cameras of the Panopticon are constantly on watch, looking for good and bad behavior.  Pick up litter?  Good.  Fail to smile at your neighbors?  Bad. 

It doesn't seem like Korb will ever score enough points to get what he wants.  But there are rumors about brokers, people who have learned to work the system, and can set you up with the points you need.  But when you make a deal like that there is always a price to be paid...

This story is  a treat.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Banana Island, by Susan Breen

"Banana Island," by Susan Breen, in Mystery Writers of America Presents: Crime Hits Home,  edited by S.J. Rozan, Hanover Square Press, 2022.

This is the third appearance in this space by Susan Breen, and her second this year.  That's a rare thing.

Marly is a scam baiter for the IRS.  I knew there were amateurs doing this work for fun, but are there really professionals?  Cool.  Marly engages with scam artists, ideally to catch them, but at least to keep them busy so they are not robbing the gullible.

 Marly has been spending a lot of time on the phone with a Nigerian who she believes is a con artist, but she can't quite convince him to ask for money.  In fact, he seems a bit of a charmer.  To raise the stakes she tells him about the situation her family is facing: Most of the members live in Long Island City, where homes are shooting up in value. A realtor just made a blind offer of two million dollars for Marly's house.  Her Nigerian pal urges her to take it, of course.

But the family turns out to have bigger problems than the real estate boom.  And as things get more dangerous Marly has a harder time figuring who the good guys are.  I very much enjoyed this twisty tale.