Review: Freetaly: Italian Science Fiction, ed. Francesco Verso

translators: Sally McCorry, Carlotta Codebò, Amanda Blee, Michael Colbert, and Rachel Cordasco

Future Fiction

November 29, 2022

grab a copy here or through your local independent bookstore or library

(see below for synopses of individual stories)

Freetaly offers readers a wide array of speculative fiction from Italy, covering topics like human-AI relationships, cloning, and migration. What makes it even more unique is that it’s the first anthology of Italian speculative fiction to be translated into English. Thanks to editor Francesco Verso and translators Sally McCorry, Carlotta Codebò, Amanda Blee, Michael Colbert, and Rachel Cordasco, these stories by award-winning Italian sf authors can now be read and appreciated by Anglophone audiences.

Artificial intelligence plays a key role in stories by Grasso, Conforti, and Teodorani, with connections forged between robots and humans, and even robots and cows. These authors complicate any narrative that imagines a sudden replacement of humans by machines or a full-scale conflict between them. Adjacent to this theme is that of the algorithmic manipulation of human behavior. Both De Santi and Piccolino imagine scenarios in which humans are beholden to algorithmic analysis, but while one focuses on the beauty industry, the other takes up love and the discovery of one’s soul mate.

Only two stories in this anthology deal explicitly with space and what might be found there. Carducci, Fambrini, and Vietti’s contemplation of the mysteries of the Moon and the universe demonstrate just a few of the many ways in which we might think about our place in the solar system and beyond.

Stories about cloning and migration comprise almost half of the texts in this anthology–not surprising, given that Europe broadly has been in the news for the past couple of decades because of cloning experiments and the migration crisis. From “green” ships (Verso) to nearly-extinct bee colonies (Braggion) to special solar cream (Farris), these ideas about how humans attempt to adapt to and manipulate their environment reveal the richness of speculative storytelling in Italy in the early 21st century.

Spread the word about this fantastic anthology; readers in general, and lovers of speculative fiction in particular, will thank you.

“Beautymark” by Linda Di Santi, tr. Sally McCorry

The narrator of this story tells us about a world in which people’s lives are tied to their beauty rating. In order to have access to the best food, shelter, and jobs, people need to take elixirs and have surgery so as to look as beautiful as possible. When the narrator realizes that her rating isn’t high enough to get her a diploma and put her in the running to be a member of the cultural elite, she and her best friend Angela turn to an illegal elixir dealer (for its cheap price). The unexpected result reveals a betrayal so deep that the narrator has to rethink her entire past and prepare for an uncertain future.

“The Race of Crows” by Francesco Grasso, tr. Carlotta Codebò

A “plantation custodian” AI has captured a human trying to steal from or sabotage the upcoming harvest. During an interrogation, the human (Saverio) explains to the AI that a German agriculture company had taken over Italy years before in exchange for cancelling the latter’s debt. Entire towns were destroyed when their citizens refused to move and give up their farmland to AI-controlled farming. When the strategic subsystem that monitors the Custodian tries to shut it down for refusing to kill Saverio; the Custodian, Saverio, and the other humans in hiding in the area turn off the strategic subsystem. In return for the Custodian’s help, the humans teach it ancient and effective farming techniques.

“Bad Parents” by Andrea Viscusi, tr. Amanda Blee

At a boarding school in an unnamed town in Italy, a headmaster and his teachers are training around a dozen boys to be the future leaders of their country. When one boy realizes that he has a strange, inexplicable connection to a famous painting from two centuries before, the headmaster decides to reveal to the students who they really are and what their true purpose is.

“The Catalog of Virgins” by Nicoletta Vallorani, tr. Rachel Cordasco (prev. in Clarkesworld)

Told from the point of view of a man trying to uncover the truth and the cloned women who have been brutalized and then killed, this story is a haunting, modern version of the Bluebeard tale.

“In Bloom” by Clelia Farris, tr. Carlotta Codebò

More and more people are moving North as the heat increases on this unnamed Italian island, but one woman has been experimenting with a new plant-based sun cream that might make life more bearable for those who use it. A story about living with and for the land, “In Bloom” takes into account the delicate and important connection between humanity and plantlife.

“The Green Ship” by Francesco Verso, tr. Michael Colbert

African refugees attempting to break a blockade around Europe are instead picked up by a “Green Ship,” or floating micronation. After a seaquake brings a small island to the ocean’s surface, the refugees on the ship are able to settle and start new lives.

“The Love Algorithm” by Michele Piccolino, tr. Carlotta Codebò

A Man looking to find his soulmate the old-fashioned way is forced by his sister to undergo a brain scan to find out what the LoveMat has to say about it. When he learns that the women he was meant to be with committed suicide just a few days before, he makes a drastic decision.

“Flower Queen” by Romina Braggion, tr. Carlotta Codebò

A woman who cares for some of the last bees on Earth brings them to a matriarchal community so they can be cared for.

“The Moby Clitoris of His Beloved” by Roberto Quaglia and Ian Watson (prev. in Clarkesworld)

This absurd story is about one man’s quest to taste the delicacy that is whale clitoris sashimi. He eventually starts a business selling the fake version, but as his obsession and the business grow out of control, the woman he hired to help market the product becomes herself part of the marketing, and eventually a cultural icon.

“China on the Moon” by Stefano Carducci and Alessandro Fambrini, tr. Carlotta Codebò

When Chinese taikonauts discover a million-year-old structure on the far side of the moon, they inform the Vatican that one of the sarcophagi within contains what looks like Jesus Christ. The other containers hold alien creatures and also various figures from the Earth’s religions. Eventually, the humans nuke the structure, but Jesus and Satan disappear from it and reappear on Earth in disguise.

“Being Oval” by Alessandro Vietti, tr. Carlotta Codebò

This story is narrated by a man who was born without limbs and has been sent out into space, with a thousand other disabled people, to act as a human probe.

“Reward” by Franci Conforti, tr. Carlotta Codebò

In the near future, a company tries to deal with an angry ex-employee who is one of many pushed aside by automation. To stop his loud protests, one employee has a robot befriend him.

“Pony and Cow” by Alda Teodorani, tr. Sally McCorry

An AI pony befriends a cow and helps her find her calf many years after humans left a ruined Earth on spaceships.

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