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Critique: Optimist Cleaver’s Last Transmission by J. C. Hsyu

I’ve just updated my Read in 2023 page with a ‘hot take‘ review of Optimist Cleaver’s Last Transmission by J. C. Hsyu:

A courier is late for a handover, and then their night gets worse. Interesting set-up but the payoff lacked sense. It fell apart when revealed. Had some nice SF elements.

I also gave it a star review of 2/5. I am sort of uncomfortable with my score and I’d like to explore the score and the story in a bit more detail.

If you plan on reading this story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2022 issue please read the it first and then come back.

Warning: Potential Spoilers Start Here

I have to say upfront that there is a lot to enjoy in this story. J. C. Hsyu does several things really well. She has created an interesting setting and world elements.

The scene in the Royal Bumbershoot’s Umbrella Garden begs so many questions – like living Umbrellas? Ones that can evolve and become carnivorous? How did they come to be and if there is no rain what do they do? What other plants are been ‘created/adapted’ for this new world?

There are hints at future tech like a personal data transport system as more secure transactions. The e-bikes and other transport. The need to change to cremation due to a virus and how memorials are handled.

J. C. Hsyu has a strong narrative voice. She’s created core characters that each seem like individuals. They have different relationships with our main character and their own agency.

The dialogue between Optimist and her boss, Kipium (Kip), especially, is well handled.

There is also backstory of gang culture that is vital to the why of this tale. And the character Garage Sale and Optimist Cleaver’s interaction with they – she seems herself in the younger person and attempts to ‘save’ her. That rounds out Optimist’s character.

With all those strengths why did I give it such a low score?

The answer is the ending disappointed me in two main ways.

One was why now? Why on this day did a character from her past come back? I get the motivation explaining why the confrontation is needed.

But the circumstances set-up to get the ending could have been done at any point in the past. This wasn’t a day when the planets aligned or a long drawn out plan was finally executed.

The second was going to be around how final the confrontation was. But I have just realised that what happed did actually end things – or at least ended this confrontation – but how we got there seemed too quickly done – and without consequences for the future.

I don’t know if it’s meant to be left ambiguous or I missed the double meaning. Then again speed was designed in from comments made earlier by our main character.

I’d probably now bump this up to a 3.5 or 3.75/5.

If I’d left it as 2/5 it would not have been a comment on the author’s craft – as I’ve explained there is a lot to admire – but their choices when to came to construction.

With the clarification that there was an ending. It’s still a 3.5 or 3.75/5 from me due to the ‘why now?’ question as that alongside the ambiguousness phrasing ripped me out of the story.

I’d happily read more from J. C. Hsyu.

If you’ve read it, I’m @gavreads on the socials, please let me know as I’d love to chat about it.

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