Xia Jia, “Tongtong’s Summer.” Translated by Ken Liu. Clarkesworld, December 2014 (originally in Neil Clarke (ed.), Upgraded, Wyrm Publishing, 2014).
The second Xia Jia on the list is even better than the first and continues his theme of the impact of high technology on everyday life. Here he writes about a very contemporary subject, the use of robots to help an aging population cope with day to day life. In this case Tongtong’s grandfather, in his eighties but still working at the clinic every day until a bad fall, has to come live with them, so Tongtong’s mother could take care of him. Because she and her husband both work, Tongtong’s father brings home a robot, an Ah Fu, to help them. Which isn’t actually a robot, but a tele-operated machine run by an intern for the company Tongtong’s father works for: real robots don’t work and full time carers are too expensive.
So far this looks like a typical gadget story, but Xia Jia takes it a step further to imagine the use people may actually put this technology to. Because in real life as in fiction, we tend to think about the elderly as passive recipients of such high tech solutions to their social and physical problems, but what if somebody like Tongtong’s grandfather could himself use an Ah Fu to frex, play chess with a friend in another part of the country?
The way Xia Jia works this out, again ably translated by Ken Liu, is great. Asimov once talked about social science fiction: “It is easy to predict an automobile in 1880; it is very hard to predict a traffic problem”. Or, as one wag put it, even harder to predict the invention of the American teenager and their courting rituals based on mass car ownership. Xia Jia comes close, close enough for a Hugo nomination.
Rachael K. Jones, “Makeisha in Time.” Crossed Genres #20, August 2014.
Almost impossible, but Rachael K. Jones has managed to write a novel time travel story, of a woman who keeps getting pulled back into the past to lead entire lifes there, only to return to the exact method she left, her family and friends none the wiser, and how she adapts to this. A great story.
Stephen Graham Jones, “Chapter Six.” Tor.com, June 11, 2014.
This on the other hand felt old fashioned, the sort of bullshitty philosophy story an Asimov or Clarke could’ve written fifty-sixty years ago. Not a bad story, but somewhat dated. After the zombie apocalypse, the last grad student and his thesis advisor argue about the origins of human intelligence in light of the new data the apocalpyse offers.