Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.
I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I role several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing. This week, I rolled 28,223 which turned out to be Marie DesJardin’s short story “The Problem with Reproducible Bugs.”
One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a person point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.
Authors frequently introduce protagonists who are suffering from amnesia, or don’t know where they are, who they are, or what is happening to help provide an entry point for the reader, who often has to have those things explained in a science fiction story. In Marie DesJardin’s story “The Problem with Reproducible Bugs,” Vince’s inability to remember what is going on it central to the point of the story.
When the story opens, Vince is in the hospital, brought their by his research assistant, Lauren, who is concerned after he was found unconscious. Vince learns, but finds it hard to believe, that he fell unconscious multiple times over the course of a few days, each time, losing his short term member of events for the days leading up to the incidents.
Despite his hospitalization and Lauren’s concern, Vince isn’t convinced there is a problem and is more concerned about getting back to his lab and continuing his research. Vince’s actions, along with the fact that he does remember that he has a secret lab hidden behind his public lab, demonstrates why research includes a series of checks and balances.
If Victor were open about his research with his assistant, or anyone else, DesJardins would not have had a story. His blackouts are a direct result of the experiment that he is undertaking in his secret lab, and, although he realizes what is happening, his realization comes at a time that he can’t leave any notes for himself, instead relying on himself to remember what happened, a bug to his process which is entirely reproducible unless he changes his process to include someone else.
DesJardins’ story is a puzzle story. She presents the puzzle concerning Vince’s blackouts and eventually shows the reason behind them. She does not exhibit much interest in exploring the ethical issues behind Vince’s methodology, aside from how they lead to his blackouts. Once the puzzle is resolved, the story is over. DesJardins seems to have no more interest in exploring the impact the continuing periods of amnesia might have on Vince’s life and research or how it might affect Lauren and other people who are within his circle.
The result is an amusing story that is mostly filler. DesJardins raises some questions, but fails to follow through with them to the extent that they seem even less like afterthoughts and more as if they were only introduced incidentally.
Steven H Silver is a nineteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.