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This being a review of the April/May 2011 double issue of Asimov's Science Fiction. (If you're wondering where March went, never fear -- I am indeed posting these out of order, my March issue having disappeared, hopefully into the bookbag of a housemate to read on the T, but I have read it, and I'll review it when it has returned to me.)
- "The Day the Wires Came Down", by Alexander Jablokov (novelette) -- This story centers around a transport system using wires strung between high points in London, or rather as you might guess from the title the death of same. Jablokov attributes it to a dream he had, but I'd swear I've read somehwere, probably the excellent webcomic 2D Goggles, about Charles Babbage's plans to build something similar for mail-carrying. (I can't find the reference right now, but somebody else on the Internet also remembers this, so I'm not crazy, or at least no crazier than a random person on the Internet.) It's an interesting idea, and the quality of the writing is good. Unfortunately that setting detail alone is kind of ho-hum, and the characters don't do much to enliven it, so I got bored and punted partway through the story. The setting of course has a bit of a steampunk vibe, and this shows up the problem I have with a lot of steampunk stories -- their setting is a lot of Rule of Cool, but there's nothing underneath that, no problem to animate it -- it is, to abuse the metaphor a bit, an automaton, flawless on the outside but only clockwork underneath.
- "An Empty House With Many Doors", by Michael Swanwick (short story) -- A depressed widower meets a version of his wife from another universe. Well-executed and blessedly short.
- "The Homecoming", by Mike Resnick (short story) -- The story begins, "I don't know what bothers me more, my lumbago or my arthritis." That told me everything I needed to know about it, and I bounced off. It may be a fine story, but I judge it to be more about the aches and pains of late middle age than anything I, with the narcissism of youth, find interesting.
- "North Shore Friday", by Nick Mamatas (short story) -- Some Greek illegal aliens, some INS agents, and a federal telepathy machine. Well-characterized, and especially interesting for the way it uses typography to achieve a non-linear narrative.
- "Clockworks" (novelette), by William Preston -- A prequel story to his "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down" from the March 2010 Asimov's. I like it as I liked the other, though I enjoyed the other's careful treading of the boundary between science and the supernatural, and I am a bit disappointed to see here that the story makes it pretty evident that the supernatural exists in this world. (And I am getting bored of Cthulhu.)
- "The Fnoor Hen", by Rudy Rucker (short story) -- I always find stories about future pop or startup culture to ring a little false (though this may be because the truth really is stranger than fiction). I was suspending disbelief in this story until the line "'You're always talking about morphons these days,' said Vicky [the main female character], feeling cozy with the vague old word, which had something to do with chaos or math," at which point I said to myself "why am I reading this garbage again" and punted it.
- "Smoke City", by Christopher Barzak (short story) -- This story begins strong, so strong that rereading the first paragraph still causes my heart to catch in my throat, but after that it descends into a heavy-handed not-even-allegory about how terrible the early Industrial Age was and loses all of its phantom depth.
- "A Response from EST17", by Tom Purdom (novelette) -- Oh look, another story about how risk-takers are necessary in any society. How trite. It does contain an interesting idea -- what if we don't see aliens in the sky because every new civilization that achieves contact is given a payload of information, like immortality and sustainability and all the rest, and it finds the ensuing thousand-year struggle to cope with this so traumatic that it hunkers down on its planet and doesn't talk to anybody. Mostly this just makes me want to read more Culture books, however.
- "The One that Got Away", by Esther M. Friesner (short story) -- The main character is a fish-woman prostitute, however her voice annoyed me, and I punted.
- "The Flow and Dream", by Jack Skillingstead (short story) -- The last survivor on a dying generation ship is forced by the AI inhabiting that ship to start settlement of the planet. Yeah. Uh, meh?
- "Becalmed", by Kristine Katheryn Rusch (novelette) -- Genocide survivor... or is it instigator... is repressing her memories and needs to draw them out. If she instigated the genocide, she'll be executed. This was actually fairly good -- the first Rusch piece I've liked. I think partly because it's set in a great traveling Fleet -- Starfleet if Starfleet never went home and traveled in a pack -- which is an interesting setting, and I kept mapping the ship into the Galaxion universe and that made it even better. The story's not novel, but it was well enough done that I didn't notice too hard.
- Another Norman Spinrad book review column, notable for its thankful avoidance of his previous topic but for one blessedly short paragraph, its inclusion of some items of actual interest, and its long rant about why Spinrad hates the New Weird, whatever that is ("it's not scientific enough!"). Six of one...
I think I'm getting bored of Asimov's -- I'm less and less inclined to read it, and with my new job I spend less time on the T so I have less need of it. At the farthest end of winter when I'm sick of the cold and the gloom and the bland white food, what I crave above all else is bitter greens, and so now the characters, settings, plots provided by Asimov's really aren't providing whatever it is I'm craving in my literature. Would people be sad if I stopped running these reviews?
This being a review of the February 2011 Asimov's.
- "Out of the Dream Closet", by David Ira Cleary (novelette) -- If this isn't an anime, it needs to be. The themes and images remind me a lot of Haibane Renmei and the works of Hayao Miyazaki. The main character, who calls herself Little Girl, is ~60 years old, but her body has been frozen at about 12 by her father, who believes that that is the ideal age. Her father, whose physical body has become bloated and mutated, has decided to die by uploading himself into the literalized cloud-mind, whose moods make the weather of the world, and Little Girl has to deal with the fallout of that decision while trying to persuade her father to free her to grow up. Definitely the best story of the issue.
- "Waster Mercy", by Sara Genge (short story) -- A monk whose order exists to atone for the excesses of the modern age, looking for salvation, strands himself in the post-apocalyptic wasteland outside Paris and is saved by a local boy. Interesting, but I didn't like it as much as I've liked some of her other stories.
- "Planet of the Sealies", by Jeff Carlson (short story) -- Continuing the unstated "alien archaeology" theme of the issue, a group of clone families mine the landfills of post-apocalyptic California for genetic material to increase the diversity of their genomes. I found the world of the story fascinating, but I wished its resolution was less black-and-white.
- "Shipbirth", by Aliette de Bodard (short story) -- Set in the same Aztec-flavored universe as her other stories, a... transgendered necromancer...? attends the failed birth of a starship. Creepy (as you'd expect from the Aztecs) and good but lacking in some way I can't put my finger on.
- "Brother Sleep", by Tim McDaniel (short story) -- The main character is a wealthy student in a Thailand where he and all his peers have had a medical treatment such that they need to sleep only a few hours each night (shades of Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain). His roommate hasn't had the treatment, and the story deals with their interactions. It has some moments, and it's an interesting choice of setting, but it gets preachy in a Westerners-tell-non-Westerners-what's-wrong-with-them way towards the end. Tangentially, my envy of the non-sleepers knows no bounds.
- "Eve of Beyond", by Barry Pronzini and Bill N. Malzberg (short story) -- A clothing magnate is bought out by his ruthless and amoral competitors. This is science fiction? Mediocre at best.
- "The Choice", by Paul McAuley (novella) -- Unusual for me to read the novella, but the beginning (more alien archaeology) grabbed me. A post-global warming world where benevolent (or are they?) aliens showed up just in time to save us from ourselves. I really like the worldbuilding at the beginning, and a lingering fondness for sailing stories kept me engaged and enjoying the story while the main characters chased the crashed Big Dumb Object, until they found it and ended up taking something they shouldn't have, at which point predictable (and deathly dull) hilarity ensued.
After a lovely, busy almost-a-month hiatus in blogging, perhaps to celebrate the end of Iron Blogger, I'm back.
Here, at very nearly the last moment I can put them in, are my selections for the Asimov's Readers' Awards. The poll is instant-runoff voting, allowing three selections per category, so the numbered selections below are my votes, in order, and following are honorable mentions, in no particular order. All titles link to the month in which I review them, and of course all my current Asimov's reviews can be found under thetag.
- "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down", by William Preston
- "The Jaguar House, In Shadow", by Aliette de Bodard
- "Warning Label", by Alexander Jablokov
- "Slow Boat", by Gregory Norman Bossert
- "Frankenstein, Frankenstein", by Will McIntosh -- (this was going to be one of my nominees for novella until I discovered that I had misclassified it, oops)
- "Conditional Love," by Felicity Shoulders
- "The Other Graces, by Alice Sola Kim
- "Sins of the Father", by Sara Genge
- "Voyage to the Moon", by Peter Friend
- "The Speed of Dreams", by Will Ludwigsen
- "Names for Water", by Kij Johnson
- August 2010, by Michael Whelan
- July 2010, by Tomislav Tikulin
- March 2010, by Donato Giancola
I was surprised to discover that both of the poems I found notable this year were by the same guy, one Mark Rich. Though he wrote a couple other things which I didn't even notice, so clearly he's not batting 100%, just better than everyone else. Prose poetry is not the be-all, end-all of science fiction poetry, people!
Since this list represents most of the short fiction I've read which was published in 2010, this is also likely to be substantially my Hugo nomination slate, which I'll be figuring out momentarily.
Here's to another good year in science fiction!
In magazine publishing, the new year begins... well, whenever the January issue hits the stands, which is usually a month or two in advance of the actual calendar date. So we're into a new year for Asimov's even if we've still got a couple weeks to go before January 1st. There weren't any real standouts in this issue, but there were a solid three or four compelling stories, so it was a pretty good issue all told.
- "The Backward Banana", by Martin Gardner -- The first thing in the issue of note is a puzzle, as you might have guessed if you recognize the author's name, told as a single-page science fiction short-short story. Apparently these ran regularly in Asimov's for a bit under the first decade of its run, and it's a cute little thing. It's neither as tight, nor as opaque, nor as hard as the puzzles I'm used to, written for the MIT Mystery Hunt, but the skills I've developed there came in handy to solve it, and I had fun doing so.
- "Two Thieves", by Chris Beckett (novelette) -- A bit of a swashbuckler, I guess ("novela de capa y espaza," literally "story of cape and sword," as I have just learned it would be called in Spanish). It's cute enough, but the characters are stock, and it's not subtle with its images and tropes. Fun, but nothing more than that.
- "Dolly", by Elizabeth Bear (short story) -- Fans of Bear's Shadow Unit will recognize her facility with police procedural detail at work here. As always, she builds layered and believable characters with an economy of strokes, and, though there's nothing new about the big idea at work here, she draws it to a real-world, logical conclusion in a way I found deeply satisfying.
- "Visitors", by Steve Rasnic Tem (short story) -- A middle-aged couple go to visit their son in a cryogenic facility which, we gradually discover, is also his prison. That's an application of cryogenic tech I confess I hadn't considered before, and it's interesting in its implications. Unfortunately they're not drawn out especially well, I didn't really connect with the story otherwise, and it doesn't really go anywhere. It did do better than average at letting me figure out what was going on rather than telling me up-front.
- "Interloper", by Ian McHugh (short story) -- The setting here is interesting -- a potentially post-apocalyptic Australia where a Torchwood or Primeval-style interdimensional rift has appeared, spewing dinosaurs and odd powers and things that go bump in the night, the titular Interlopers. The main characters are a circus of people touched by the rift, who are also not coincidentally on the lookout for anyone like them, which of course goes wrong. The ending is sort of predictable, but there are worse things to say about a story. Lots of good detail, lots of good showing-not-telling, and it did keep me guessing for a bit. A fun story.
- "Ashes on the Water", by Gwendolyn Clare (short story) -- This is a bit of a travelogue or maybe quest story, as a young woman in India looks for the river on which to spread her sister's ashes. (It feels a bit like it could be set in Paolo Bacigalupi's Windup Girl universe, a few decades before Bacigalupi's work takes place, the strongest similarities being its non-Western setting and its preoccupation with water.) I felt for the protagonist, and she seemed well-drawn. The story did feel a bit preachy, and it has the usual potential for problems that all fiction about non-Westerners written by Westerners does, of which I'm not a good judge because I'm a Westerner too.
- "Killer Advice", by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (novella) -- Despite being set on a space station, this is a traditional locked-room mystery, and (except for its murder weapon) could be set in any of the traditional settings for such. The characters are mostly stock characters one recognizes from other such work -- the officious hotelier, the alcoholic doctor, the moneyed widow, the captain's daughter, etc. It's a fun read, as evidenced by the fact that I actually finished it (I don't usually read the novellas). It's been a while since I've read a mystery story, and it was fun to revisit the genre. The stock characters are stock for a reason -- they work. That said, this is not, unfortunately, anything like a tightly-plotted story. The information necessary to solve the mystery isn't given to the reader until the characters themselves discover it, so no figuring it out on your own for the perceptive mystery readers in the audience, and there's a careless red herring early on -- one of the characters uses the past tense to refer to the first victim before the character knows the victim is dead -- which perceptive mystery readers will pick up on and be distracted by for the next twenty pages. Thankfully it is just twenty or so pages, so one can ride with the plot along the well-worn ruts of the genre in easy enjoyment and reach the destination before the journey becomes tedious.
Every year Asimov's runs a Readers' Award poll, which seems a remarkably straightforward way to encourage it to print more of the interesting things I like. At some point in the next few weeks I'll go through the posts I've made here and extract some semblance of a top three in each length category, which is what the poll calls for, also conveniently good Hugo nomination fodder, and I'll probably post them here as well. Best is always a dicey proposition -- best on what axis? -- but I'll pick an axis, and it'll do for this purpose.
This being a capsule review of the December 2010 issue of Asimov's. It's an issue without a novella, so I had more to read than usual. :-)
- "Plus or Minus", by James Patrick Kelly (novelette) -- Another "coming of age in space" story, and one with some odd and uncomfortable sexual politics that didn't otherwise grab my attention, so I didn't finish it.
- "Libertarian Russia", by Michael Swanwick (short story) -- Michael Swanwick is a writer I've enjoyed in other contexts (the head librarian at the library I worked at in high school gave me a copy of his Vacuum Flowers the library was getting rid of as something she thought I would like, and I did), so I was hoping to enjoy this story. Unfortunately it's a very transparent morality play about the limitations of libertarian philosophy, and while I even agree with Mr. Swanwick on a number of points, morality plays are not what I want out of my fiction, so I was disappointed. Post-apocalyptic Russia wasn't even a well-enough drawn place that I could appreciate the setting despite the dismal plot, and that seems like a setting that should have potential. I'm bored stiff of post-apocalypses -- especially misogynistic ones, which they all are almost without exception, and this is not one of those exceptions.
- "Sins of the Father", by Sara Genge (short story) -- An interesting and unusual take on mer-people -- what happens when global warming causes sea levels to rise catastrophically? -- and a story sensitive to its characters and their place in the world. The story has an awkward and to my mind unnecessary infodump towards its end -- I'd already figured out what was going on in the world, how the story was SFnal, from hints earlier on, and I didn't need or want it explained to me, but that hardly mars the otherwise excellent story. I consistently like Ms. Genge's work, so I'm glad to see that Asimov's continues to run it, and I look forward to seeing her name on the cover of future issues.
- "Freia in the Sunlight", by Gregory Norman Bossert (short story) -- An interesting and at times beautiful story about AI told from the perspective of a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) straining towards full consciousness. One of the better depictions of nascent consciousness I've read.
- "Variations", by Ian Werkheiser (short story) -- The son of a famous musician helps a startup recreate his father's performances. The science strikes me as a bit unlikely, but the transformation undergone by the main character is well drawn and the ending has a beauty to it that I can't find the words to articulate well.
- "Excellence", by Robert Reed (short story) -- A man's doppelgänger AI (built from his template) becomes successful. The man sells him. Hilarity ensues. It had a bit of discussion about what makes someone successful, but didn't otherwise grab me much.
- "The Prize Beyond Gold", by Ian Creasey (short story) -- In a world where genetic engineering of the human body is common and sports records among baseline humans get closer and closer to asymptotic best performance, one man has a shot to break a 70-year-old record and win... "The Prize Beyond Gold"! (You really need to read that sentence with Stentorian Movie Trailer Voice in your head. Go ahead, I'll wait.) This story would in fact film well, I think (two great tastes -- science fiction and sports! Gattaca meets Chariots of Fire!) Unfortunately most of the story is an infodumpy conversation between the main character and a genengineered woman who's asking him to join her clade once he breaks the record, as a bit of a pie in the face of people who would use him as a symbol of how the "standard model" still has something worthwhile to it, so it's a bit heavy on side of telling instead of showing and loses something for that. Not that that would stop any film adaptations, which could proceed from just the idea and the title. However the film adaptations would almost certainly lose the ambiguity of the ending, which was a plus in favor of the story. Six of one...
- "Uncle E", by Carol Emshwiller (short story) -- A bit of a modern Boxcar Children, with a mysterious stranger, the titular uncle, who tries to help the orphaned children find a new home. Not much more than cute, but cute. (And a story about children in which the mysterious strange man isn't seriously dangerous to them! That's a positive.)
- "Warfriends", by Tom Purdom (novelette) -- The sequel to an Ace Double story from forty years ago, and it reads appropriately. Two intelligent species on a jungle planet, a (in my mind's eye) tiger-like species that dwells on the forest floor, and a more ape-like species that dwells in the trees, attempt to work together to defeat a common enemy. Some interesting bits of worldbuilding, some interesting bits of character development, but not enough of the latter to make me really satisfied.
I'm reminded by my description of "Freia in the Sunlight" that I read Ted Chiang's novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects last weekend, and it's probably the best depiction of nascent consciousness I've read. The story follows two employees of an early next-generation
virtual pet "digient" startup (these are rather smarter than mere pets, even in the beginning) who adopt several of the digients after the company closes and raise them as their children to adulthood, and the trials and tribulations they face along the way. (What do you do when the company behind the software platform your child is running on shuts its doors and turns its servers off?) It's in many ways a story about the bittersweetness of being a parent and watching your children grow up, and the characters, both human and digital, and their relationships, are all well-depicted. I read Ted Chiang's stories more for their ideas than for their characters, and even in Lifecycle the characterization is spare (but obviously effective), so I was surprised to discover how much I cared about the characters in it when the story was over. Highly recommended.
(I'd also like to point out to other fans of Chiang's work that the Small Beer Press trade paper reprint of his collection Stories of Your Life: and Others, which I cannot recommend highly enough, is now out, so you no longer need to pay $50+ for a used copy of the hardcover.)
There was also a minor tempest in a teapot recently in the science fiction community over steampunk and its merits or lack thereof, which was mostly notable to me in that someone linked offhandedly to Phil and Kaia Foglio's Girl Genius comic (available to read in its entirety for free on the web!), which I've been meaning to read for some time, and it hooked me in a whoops-where-did-the-time-go kind of way. It's gaslamp fantasy, and make no mistake about it -- there's not much challenging of aristocracy or depiction of the plight of the lower classes here -- but it's genuninely fun, and it's the first thing I've read in a very long time where I got to the end and wanted to go back to the beginning immediately and reread it, because I wanted to keep living in that world. It's good, honest escapism, and I found it refreshing. Escapism has been lacking in my life of late, and I needed some. (And I'll note that the tendency to talk like a spark, with lots of exclamation marks and cackling, is catching, so if I seem a bit more wild-haired and wild-eyed than usual, now you know why. ;-)
So that's what I've been reading. What have you been reading?
"back to youth I so well lost / I left it on another world" --"Roadside Stand", by Mark Rich
In a slight break from travel gear, here follows my review of the Oct/Nov 2010 issue of Asimov's.
- Becoming One With the Ghosts, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (novella) -- Didn't grab me in the first couple pages, so I didn't read it.
- "Names for Water", by Kij Johnson (short story) -- An odd little story, and one I can't do justice in description. The main character is an engineering student, so I identify with her on that. It's one of the best stories in this issue, and it's so small it's easy to miss.
- "The Incarceration of Captain Nebula", by Mike Resnick (short story) -- The main character is the eponymous Captain Nebula, and he's in an insane asylum. The "treatment report" format for stories is one I don't like, and this one didn't seem to be doing anything novel, so I punted it after the first few pages. (The typography on this one was also questionable, since it made significant use of typewriter font, and I find Asimov's typewriter font almost unreadable. Further discouragement if I'm already unsure on the merits of the story.)
- "Torhec the Sculptor", by Tanith Lee (novelette) -- A sculptor who destroys his pieces at the end of every show, and the very rich man who endeavors to posess a piece of the sculptor's art. I'm actually kind of surprised there isn't an artist with this schtick already, though I'd imagine the schtick would make it hard to make money. It's a cute enough story, if not entirely unpredictable, it's philosophical about the ephemeral nature of art, and it's certainly one of the better stories in this issue.
- "No Distance Too Great", by Don D'Ammassa (short story) -- Postulates a weird form of hyperspace travel which looks to the travelers like overland travel through a fantastic landscape. Said landscape is influenced by the emotional state of the travelers -- the more frought, the less passable -- and the main character, whose wife just died, finds himself, perhaps not coincidentally, on one of the trips which gets iredeemably stuck. It's cute in its way, but the emotional core of the story never grabbed me. (Perhaps it didn't grab me because there is -- thankfully -- no comparable event in my life to provoke my empathy, and I found the details of the mode of transport off-putting and implausible enough that my sensawunda wasn't engaged to compensate.)
- "The Termite Queen of Tallulah County", by Felicity Shoulders (short story) -- Despite finding the premise of the story wildly implausible -- using time travel to prevent termite infestations before they happen? really? -- there was enough interesting and genuine character interaction that I enjoyed the story.
- "Dummy Tricks", by R. Neube (short story) -- The main character was interestingly unlikeable, and, though the environmental event he's fighting seemed implausible, I found it an interesting enough story.
- "Frankenstein, Frankenstein", by Will McIntosh (novella) -- What if Phineas Gage had, after his accident, gone on to a life as a sideshow performer playing the role of Frankenstein's monster? And what if that sideshow act had met with another, also purporting to be Frankenstein's monster? While I was somewhat annoyed that the story didn't go too far beyond the Frankenstein complex which has grown up around Shelley's original and adaptations thereof, the relationship -- the friendship and mutual respect and humanity -- between the two "monsters" rescued the story for me. Another one of the best stories in this issue, the last of my top three.
- "Changing the World", by Kate Wilhelm (short story) -- This story about a hoax that goes a bit too far has obvious parallels to current events, and, well, that's about all it has going for it. I was underwhelmed.
- "Under the Thumb of the Brain Patrol", by Ferret Steinmetz (short story) -- This story inverts the usual high schoo jock-nerd dynamic, but it lays its subversion of the norm on so thick that even as a former disenfranchised high school geek I found it well past cloying, and only skimmed it after the first couple pages.
- Several Items of Interest, by Rick Wilber (novella) -- Didn't grab me within the first couple pages, so I didn't bother.
- Dishonorable mention to Norman Spinrad's book review column, which looked from its first paragraph to be more of the same nonsense he was peddling back in April, and which I skipped.
- Honorable mention to "Roadside Stand", by Mark Rich, one of the poems in this issue -- not for its poesy, as it has none, but for its idea (buying tomatoes on Mars) and in particular the line I used as a pull-quote above, which grabbed me enough to... use it as the pull-quote on my blog post. :-)
Also a few quick reviews of stuff published for free! Online! And in a variety of ebook formats! By Tor.com! Which I mostly read on my phone on the way to and from work. (I think the ones published in 2009 aren't eligible for Hugos next year, so there's less drive for me to index them as comprehsensively as the Asimov's stories.)
- "Overtime", by Charlie Stross (2009; length unknown) -- A Christmas-time Laundry story. Features a Dr. Kringle from Forecasting Ops, the precognitive arm of the Laundry, and has about as much treacly Christmas cheer as one expects from Stross or the Laundry, making it a fine and amusing read at any time of year.
- "First Flight", by Mary Robinette Kowal (2009; length unknown) -- Time travel and the Wright brothers. A personable older protagonist and her competent younger foil.
- "The Fermi Paradox is Our Business Model", by Charlie Jane Anders (2010; length unknown) -- The Fermi Paradox basically asks, "if aliens exist, where are they?", and the answer in this story is that they're waiting for us to kill ourselves off in the inevitable nuclear holocaust so they can come in, collect, and sell all the precious materials we have helpfully mined out of the Earth's crust. Amusing; delivers well on its premise.
- "A Memory of Wind", by Rachel Swirsky (2009; novelette) -- When Helen fled to Troy with Paris, the Grecian kings assembled an army to follow her and take her back, but found themselves becalmed. King Agamemnon sacrificed his eldest daughter, Iphigenia, to the goddess Artemis that she might stir up the winds and send their warships to Troy. This is Iphigenia's story, and it is beautiful and haunting. Go read this. Now. (This was apparently a Nebula award finalist.)
- "Eros, Philia, Agape", by Rachel Swirsky (2009; novelette) -- An android leaves his human lover, and thereafter is told in retrospect the story of their relationship. Gorgeous and haunting and different than "A Memory of Wind", and that description fails to capture the least bit of what I liked about the story. So much truth about humans and human relationships and the worlds we build for and with each other. Go read this, now, too. (This was both a Hugo and a Locus award finalist for Best Novelette, apparently.)
Rachel Swirsky has a new story on Tor.com, "The Monster's Million Faces", which I haven't read yet, but which I look forward to. (It's now loaded on my phone to read on the T tomorrow.) An awesome, awesome writer. She has a bunch of her stories online linked at her web site, and I'm really tempted to go through and read them all, but I need to go to bed. Whoops.
Here's my review of the September 2010 issue of Asimov's, before I leave it on the plane in the hopes someone else will find it and enjoy it. (It's a good issue.)
- "Backlash", by Nancy Fulda (novelette) -- A cute time-traveling retired-spy-back-into-service story, which, unusually for the spy genre, features a reasonably accurate portrayal of said spy dealing with PTSD. (PTSD: It's not just nicely-cinematic flashbacks.)
- "The Palace in the Clouds", by Eugene Mirabelli (short story) -- Not to be confused with the cover story, Geoffrey Landis's The Sultan of the Clouds. It posits an aging steampunk Venice-of-the-sky, which makes for some gorgeous imagery, and goes from there. It's either inspired by Hayao Miyazaki, or he should totally make a movie of it, or both -- the image of a slowly-failing flying city and the main characters, a young boy and his aviator uncle, are all tailor-made for his style. As with Miyazaki, you won't find any deep philosophy here, more themes of family and growing up, but that's not a bad thing.
- "Wheat Rust", by Benjamin Crowell (novelette) -- Does a decent job at a story of a generation ship and the people who live there and their divergent cultures, and notably a story whose stakes are much smaller than The Destruction Of The Entire World^WShip! (As you might gather from the name, the main characters are trying to prevent an agrigultural plague.)
- "For Want of a Nail", by Mary Robinette Kowal (short story) -- Another generation ship story, with a bit of interesting generation ship morality, plus some AI morality. AIs used as the collective memory of families over generations.
- "The Sultan of the Clouds", by Geoffrey Landis (novella) -- Geoffrey Landiss is a NASA scientist, so he obviously does a good job with the geophysics of a colony of floating cities on Mars. Thankfully he does it without letting it overwhelm the story, which has some nice bits of character development and some interesting speculation about alternative family structures a la Heinlein.
- "The View from the Other Side: Science Fiction in Non-Western/Non-Anglophone Countries", by Aliette de Bodard (nonfiction) -- A follow-up to Norman Spinrad's obnoxious book review column I complained about back in April. It can be summarized as "why the opinions and perspectives of anyone but white men matter ever 101", and so pretty basic, but probably useful to start educating the clueless. (sigh)
Currently reading: the latest issue of Apex Magazine, Cat Valente's first as fiction editor!
Asimov's, August 2010
A particularly arresting cover, IMO. An issue without a novella, which is usually a good sign.
- "Superluminosity", by Alan Wall (short story). Fell immediately and obviously into the category I mentioned yesterday (stories about insecure heterosexual white men, subtype: prove that you love me), and I skimmed it, didn't see anything to disabuse me of my first impression, and punted on it.
- "The Lovely Ugly", by Carol Emshwiller (short story). An... interesting story. (Also, warning, rape triggers.) The viewpoint character is a member of a species which achieved spaceflight and gave it up, and now maintains a studied luddite-ism. It's an interesting viewpoint. They're visited by humans, and the viewpoint character falls in love(? lust? ??) with a female member of the human crew. Lots of stuff to unpack here about race and gender and colonialism and power dynamics. I'm still not sure what I think of it.
- "Crimes, Follies, Misfortunes, and Love", by Ian Creasy (novelette). A non-misogynistic post-apocalypse! The story centers around a bunch of grandmothers in a post-Peak Oil geneology club, basically, which has the ironic problem of having too much information about their ancestors (blogs and Flickr and Twitter and even direct sense-recordings), rather than not enough. Well-characterized and thought-provoking.
- "The Battle of Little Big Science", by Pamela Rentz (short story). Another quiet little story, about one scientist's quest to get her funding for a time machine project renewed by the local tribal council. Also well-characterized and thought-provoking!
- "Warning Label", by Alexander Jablokov (novelette). A Doctorow-esque memetic engineering piece set in a world so full of warning labels that even particularly contagious memes acquire them, Wikipedia -style. The utility of charismatic politicians.
- "The Witch, the Tinman, the Flies", by J.M. Sidorova (short story). A not particularly SFnal but nevertheless affecting story about a geneticist in the Soviet Union and her young apprentice, by a Russian writer.
- "On the Horizon", by Nick Wolven (short story). An odd little story about a former criminal who's been trained to pick up the thoughts and feelings of other criminals, in an unspecified SFnal way, and used as a sort of human bloodhound for criminal activity. Gets a bit of a Dickian paranoid milieu right and ends suitably ambiguously.
- "Slow Boat", by Gregory Norman Bossert (novelette). Gets a geek main character exactly right (and a female geek main character, no less). A skilled corporate hacker wakes up to find herself on the slow boat to Mars (quite literally), and hilarity ensues. Hilarity here being defined as "a competent and clever person stuck in a cargo transport for half a year with only their personal digital assistant for a companion can come up with all manner of interesting revenge".
One advantage of taking the T to and from work every day is that I have a fair bit of reading time. Oddly, though both Asimov's and Analog are published by the same company, presumably printed by the same printer, etc., Pandemonium has only the September issue of the latter and not the former, or I'd have started it already.
Remaining to review: LCRW 25, and New Genre 6, the latter of which I picked up on a whim from Porter Square Books
As promised yesterday...
Asimov's, July 2010
A couple good stories, and a nice futuristic cityscape cover.
- "The Other Graces", by Alice Sola Kim (short story). This story, about a young Korean-American woman applying to colleges with the telepathic help of future versions of herself, brought back both fond and not-so-fond memories of being in high school and trying to get into college, and of being in college. I identified with the main character a lot. It also got me to learn at least very basically how to enter Korean hangul into my computer so I could run Google Translate on it. (It turns out that 대황, used as a nonsense syllable throughout the story, translates to 'rhubarb'.) Excellent.
- "Haggle Chips", by Tom Purdom (novelette). It had a promising opening line ("It was a very civilized hijack."), but I got as far as that part where the (needless to say, male) main character was being assigned three women for "emotional regulation" by his captors and punted. Maybe it gets better from there; perhaps I will come back to it later. I'm increasingly running out of interest in SF that exercises the fantasies and fears of white heterosexual men, lately, because I've read it all already.
- "Eddie's Ants", by D.T. Mitenko (short story). Another promising opening line ("Eddie laughs when he finds out what a gun does."), and a bit of a cute premise (a man tries repeatedly and ever more creatively to kill an alien hive mind for stealing his girlfriend), but ultimately it's another plot driven by white heterosexual male insecurity. I came back to it after I'd read the rest of the magazine, and it was okay -- some mildly interesting discussion of human society as a cooperative organism, akin to ants or bees -- but nothing particularly special.
- "The Jaguar House, In Shadow", by Aliette de Bodard (novelette). Set in the universe of her forthcoming "Aztec fantasy" novel Servant of the Underworld (in September), a universe where the Chinese discovered America before Columbus. A fascinating (and fascinatingly alien) set of interlocking religious and political systems, conflicted and sympathetic characters, some meditation on leadership, especially leadership under a corrupt higher leader. From a technical standpoint, it has some continuity issues, which I lay at the feet of the editors mostly, but those are relatively minor. Easily the best thing by her I've read to date (and I feel like there was something besides February's "The Wind-Blown Man", but I can't remember what).
- "Amelia Pillar's Etiquette for the Space Traveller", by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (short story). What is says on the tin. Short. Cute.
- A History of Terraforming, by Robert Reed (novella). I started it but the main character didn't compel me, the main antagonist(?) was a cartoonishly-manipulative female environmentalist straight from Central Casting, and, having skimmed the end, it's more than a bit heavy-handed in its didacticism. Not really worth it.
I'm still awake (Thursday), so I should at least get through the Asimov's...
I'm behind in my reviewing, for whatever that's worth. It's not that I haven't been reading the magazines, though it has been mostly magazines I've been reading -- I've been making ~no progress on my to-read stack of novels. Work has of course been consuming a lot of my energy. Also, more lately, the sleep meds I've been taking, some hours before bed, have been causing me to be a zombie pretty much up until bed. When I can't muster energy to get out of my chair, let alone read or watch TV or write, I can't really have a productive evening to speak of. I took the meds a bit later tonight -- I've been playing around with dosages and timing some (melatonin in the 300-1000 microgram range, nothing heavy-duty, thank goodness), so I'll write as much as I have energy for while I wait for it to kick in. I'm not liking it much, this twilight life, but I go in for the follow-up to my sleep study tomorrow, so hopefully that will point me in more productive directions.
Asimov's, June 2010
A seriously underwhelming issue.
- "The Emperor of Mars", by Allen M. Steele (novelette). I feel like I've read this one before -- pop psychology mixed with SFnal exceptionalism. Basically a young man, working on Mars, suffers the loss of his family and retreats into a universe constructed out of the SF books he's been reading, in which he's the titular emperor, in order to cope. Doesn't condemn his escapism, at least, but nothing hugely special.
- "Petopia", by Benjamin Crowell (short story). A cast-off electronic pet winds up in French-speaking Africa. Some commentary about digital haves and have-nots and so on, and the values different cultures place on things, and a bit of "the Street finds its own uses for technology", but it didn't really grab me.
- "Monkey Do", by Kit Reed (short story). Writer's animal learns to write, outshines writer, hilarity ensues. That's pretty much it.
- "The Peacock Cloak", by Chris Beckett (short story). A bit of an allegory on good and evil, set in a virtual world which recapitulated the Fall -- a dialogue between God and the Devil in SFnal clothing, basically -- and neither hugely novel in its outlook nor particularly deft in its approach, but well-told, and containing some nicely vivid imagery.
- "Voyage to the Moon", by Peter Friend (short story). An odd, arthropod From the Earth to the Moon. It's nicely alien, and it's fun to discover the odd nature of the world and try to understand it along with the characters.
- "Dreadnaught Neptune", by Anna Tambour (short story). I couldn't figure out where this was going, skipped to the end, skimmed the middle, and was still confused. The 1950's milieu that's pretty common in SF short stories doesn't do a lot for me, and this is no exception.
- Earth III by Stephen Baxter (novella). I couldn't get into the last story in this series, and I couldn't get into this one. Meh.
I'm not asleep yet. I'll get through as many reviews as I can tonight and post them, one a day for the next N days, until I run out.