apr/may 2011 asimovs

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?