"They aren’t supposed to be used for frivolous things, she knows that"
December 3, 2021 7:35 AM   Subscribe

"(emet)" by Lauren Ring is a speculative novelette involving surveillance technology, a tech worker who's "not even a cog in a machine, she’s just a drop of oil that helps the cog turn," and the programming of golems. It "was originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, and is temporarily available on this page for the purposes of awards consideration." Ring's stories on the intersection of tradition and sci-fi futures also include "The Best Latkes On the Moon" ("This is how to make latkes when you’ve just turned eleven and it’s the first night of Hanukkah and you are alone on the moon.") and “Three Riddles and a Mid-Sized Sedan” ("I teach my daughter to chalk runes around the house, double yellow lines that forbid the cars from crossing.").

From "(emet)":
When protesters take out the power at her Silicon Valley office, Chaya is at home, watching a golem pull dandelions.

The morning air is clear and cold. Chaya can hear her computer pinging alerts at her from inside her farmhouse. As soon as the dandelion patch is gone, she wraps her knee-high figurine in satin, pressing the cloth against its soft clay midsection. She lays her golem gently down by the riverside. A single tap on her phone activates the preprogrammed subroutine that wipes the alef from its forehead, leaving only the letters mem and tav—every instance in its code of emet, truth, becomes met, death.

She slips the bundle into the water, watching the satin flutter away in the current as the golem returns to the wet sediment. All that is left of Chaya’s creation are smears of ochre on her fingers and lines of code on her hard drive.

Chaya wipes her hands on her jeans and heads back to her daily bug tickets, ready to find out the day’s fresh disaster. Working from home has its perks, but maintaining her plot of land would be impossible without the help of her golems.

After a few false starts, Chaya has the bestowal of life down to a science. Each morning at dawn, she molds assistants from clay, connects them to her wireless network just like any smart watch or Bluetooth dongle, and passes them the day’s variables: a list of chores, with each step painstakingly defined. The golem in charge of the dandelions finished early, but there are others of various sizes lumbering about the yard, carrying eggs from Chaya’s chicken coop and clearing loose stones from her long, winding driveway.

Chaya stumbles over a heap of dandelion roots on her front porch and swears. She has forgotten to specify that it must dispose of the roots on her compost heap, not just wherever they happen to land once plucked. Another tweak for her chore list. There is less and less time for quality assurance these days, and Chaya tries to pour as much of that time as possible into her code for Millbank Biometrics.

posted by brainwane (5 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
A sort of a side note on the fact that "(emet)" is only temporarily available to read free online, for the purposes of awards consideration:

In my MetaFilter front page posts I of course only link to stuff you can read for free on the web. In short scifi & fantasy that means that there are several magazines that I generally don't link to, because they make few or no stories available to read for free on the web. Some only make digital issues available for purchase, such as Andromeda Spaceways Magazine. Some share a selection of stories as free-to-read on the web and sell digital issues containing additional content, such as Cossmass Infinities. And some are primarily print magazines but also sell digital issues, such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact or Asimov's Science Fiction or The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Sometimes these stories get reprinted in web magazines -- in fact, Escape Pod started specifically:
to create a reprint market for short science fiction. In those days if you didn’t subscribe to a print magazine, chances were you’d never get another chance to read the stories it contained. PseudoPod and PodCastle followed Escape Pod’s lead, and for many years our markets focused on reprints...
But generally those reprints happen at least a year after the original publication of the story. So it's nice to, for once, get to share on MeFi a story from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the same year that it was originally published!

In a recent article, Arley Sorg notes that online magazines have recently been dominating the awards ballots for major SF/F awards:
Print mags once had a strong presence on Hugo ballots but virtually disappeared. With the Nebulas, they clung on for a bit longer, only to eventually fade. Meanwhile, World Fantasy went from steady trickle to nothing at all. ....

Is it that these magazines are consistently putting out work which stands above others? Is it a question of visibility and accessibility? Or is there something else, difficult to perceive, something which keeps a group of "usual players" in the spotlight, and makes it hard for other venues to gain traction?
My personal assumption is that, even if the fundamental circulation numbers for the print SF&F magazines are comparable to the fundamental circulation numbers for the better-known online SF&F magazines, linkability makes a big difference to circulation of a particular story. The fact that it's easy to share and link to specific stories in online mags makes it easier for people to create buzz about them, help new readers find them who don't usually read that magazine, remind award nominators of them in end-of-the-year "here's what I'm eligible for" blog posts, and encourage people to nominate who otherwise might not have nominated at all.
posted by brainwane at 8:01 AM on December 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

"The Best Latkes On the Moon" is ouch. That one packs a punch.
posted by Quasirandom at 9:27 AM on December 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

The cars..oh my god, the cars....
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:41 AM on December 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

"The Best Latkes On the Moon" was perfect.
posted by Archer25 at 3:21 PM on December 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I really liked Emet. It's like a positive version of Chiang's 72 Letters.
posted by Hactar at 9:26 PM on December 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

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