The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Novelette, Clarkesworld): An old, decommissioned spaceship has been called back into service at the desperate end of an interspecies war. That spaceship carries a wide complement of many different kinds of robots, which are carefully assigned to keep the ship functioning. Bot 9, an unreliable old model with a penchant for improvisation and exceeding its mandate, is assigned the task of getting rid of one troublesome rat-bug-thing. The underlying story was pretty sad, but the bots perspectives were engaging, clever, and also really funny. I was completely on board to see where Bot 9’s improvisation protocols would take it!
Party Discipline by Cory Doctorow (Novelette, Tor.com): In a dystopian near-future, two teen girls dream of throwing a “Communist party”. Basically, when a company goes strategically bankrupt (leaving the workers out of luck), the workers illegally use the remaining resources to build goods given freely to all. It’s a socially cool thing to do, but also a very serious crime that will put them in contact with dangerous people. I believe this is set in an existing universe of Doctorow’s, but the story stands alone. It was a really grim look at a capitalist future, where extreme inequality intentionally and blatantly traps people into lives that lead nowhere. At the same time, the girls and their story were full of energy and humor, and I felt that the end carried some hope for the future.
A Pound of Darkness, A Quarter of Dreams by Tony Ballantyne (Short Story, Lightspeed): A shopkeeper must deal with a demon to protect her autonomy and integrity. It was an interesting combination of two kinds of stories: trying to outsmart a demon, and trying to maintain freedom from corporate control. The main character was a good person, and I was very tense waiting to see whether or not she would succeed. This one was a well-crafted story that was a lot of fun to read.
Across Pack Ice, A Fire by Marissa Lingen (Short Story, Beneath Ceaseless Skies): In this one, a sorceress in a neutral nation is grieving her husband, who died to a magical disease cruelly planted in refugee children. The sorceress and her adopted refugee daughter are determined to find a vengeance that will honor his memory. It was an emotional story, and it did not lead quite where I expected. The story also has a fair amount to say on topics that are very relevant to current events (e.g. the refugee crisis, moral obligations of people and governments).