"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. 🙂
(As an aside, this list of things Prof. Malcolm Macmillan is looking for to document the life of Phineas Gage is fascinating — a real-life Mystery Hunt.)
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 WorldWShip! (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
Since I find myself in MITSFS — which is to say near back issues of Asimov’s, which I don’t keep at home — at an ungodly early hour, with very little brain but unable to sleep, now seems like a good time to go through the January and February issues and do my capsule reviews, as I promised I would. Oh, and I’ve already made a real post this week anyway. As always, I put these up here mostly to jog my own memory later on and on the very off chance someone will find them interesting.
Without further ado…
Asimov’s January 2010
- “Marya and the Pirate”, by Geoffry Landiss (novelette). Geoff Landiss! OMG. Interesting in both its technical and human detail. Nothing wildly ground-breaking, but a good story well-told. (Plot is approximately: hijacking. IN SPAAAAACE! with extra bonus “two people in a locked room for an extended period of time”, which I feel like I’ve seen before, but, still, Mr. Landiss tells it well.)
- “Conditional Love”, by Felicity Shoulders (short story). Really pretty brilliant. A doctor dealing with human genetic engineering patients in a situation equivalent to foster care, in the persons of a brilliant girl with no limbs and a young boy who imprints on everyone he meets. Seems to me to deal well with the disability issues. Short, cutting. Excellent.
- “A Letter From the Emperor”, by Steve Rasnic Tem (short story). This is an interesting piece, hard to categorize, a dialogue between a human and an AI about the outcome of a diplomatic mission and the reasons behind the human’s partner’s suicide. Ambiguous in a good way.
- “Wonder House”, by Chris Roberson (short story). The history of the comics publishers transposed into an alternate-history Israel. Interesting in its recapitulation of that history but not intrinsically otherwise.
- “The Good Hand”, by Robert Reed (novelette). Has as its namesake an interesting alternate-historical Martin Scorcese movie, and is set in an alternate history where the US maintained a monopoly on the atomic bomb, but is otherwise kind of a standard “ugly American” tale.
- “Wilds”, by Carol Emshwiller (short story). Man goes into nature to find his true self, civilization follows, hilarity ensues. Well-written but not hugely novel as a tale.
- “The Jekyll Island Horror”, by Allen M. Steele (novelette). A pitch-perfect lost-memoir updating of The War of the Worlds for 1930’s Georgia, and well-told, but again nothing hugely novel.
- “Louisa Drifting”, by Mark Rich (poem). I read the poetry but am usually not moved enough to comment on it. It’s almost all free-verse poetry, so there’s little interest inherent in the technical requirements of the form, and what ideas they have I usually find either uninteresting or better explored in something a bit longer. This one, though, is a cute dissection of a failed spacecraft and a failing relationship, which is exactly as long as it should be and not a line longer.
Asimov’s February 2010
- “Stone Wall Truth”, by Caroline M. Yoachim (novelette). Lyrically brutal. I feel like the main character’s ending epiphany is a little trite, but the imagery of the story makes up for some of that.
- “Dead Air”, by Damien Broderick (short story). It’s written in a namedrop-heavy style that provides a good simulacrum of modern life and its information overload, but that combined with a bit too much peevish couples sniping at each other over stupid things in the beginning, and I got overwhelmed and bored and bounced off it.
- “The Woman Who Waited Forever”, by Bruce McAllister (novelette). An interesting little ghost story set in an Italian village after the Second World War, and treats with class and nationality issues interestingly — a lot of the story centers around some Army brats’ interaction with a local boy — but not a whole lot more than that.
- “The Bold Explorer in the Place Beyond”, by David Erik Nelson (short story). This is a fascinating little story of steampunky, chibi-Cthuloid first contact gone wrong as narrated by a drunk to no one in particular and overheard by a sober eavesdropper. I didn’t know you could do that in fiction. It wasn’t quite emotionally satisfying, but that doesn’t make it bad per se — I don’t know quite what to make of it.
- “The Wind-Blown Man”, by Aliette de Bodard (novelette). A very Chinese future, this one. A disaffected monk and a potential Messiah. It didn’t quite bowl me over, but it was well-written and worth the time to read.
- “The Ice Line”, by Stephen Baxter (novella). As per my usual novella procedure, it didn’t grab me in the first couple pages and so I punted it entirely.
Oh, also Hugo nominees are up. I’m pleased to see a few things I nominated make the cut. (Though three Doctor Who episodes, none of them good? WTF?) Overall it’s a strong slate this year.
…or, five things make a post.
This week for me was very full of very little of import to the wider world, so here's bits and pieces of stuff:
- I'm playing around with ikiwiki as the potential new backend for my blog and liking it a fair bit. (I know co-Iron Blogger spang uses it for her site.) It bills itself as a "wiki compiler", which seems not quite right — or at least I'm using it as a more general web site compiler — but it's impressively effective for something which generates static pages and uses only a cookie and a CGI script to do all its interaction with the user. It's backed by pretty much whatever version control system you want, which plays exactly to my kinks in software design — I chose Git. I may at some point roll my own database-backed comment module, because the current file-backed one feels a little clunky, but for the moment I'm still working on more basic things. Web design is hard; good web design seems fscking impossible. Also, like, free time. I'm going to get the site looking halfways decent and then figure out how to move all my data (and URLs, and and and) over from Blogger. But I have a site that's stored in a Git repository and updates when I 'git push' to it, and that makes me really happy.
- I finished the latest Asimov's on the T some time this week. I gave it to an acquaintance who was looking for reading material, so I'm just doing this from memory and the preview of the issue posted on Asimov's web site, but here's what I thought of the stories in it. (Since I'm trying to put my thoughts together for Hugo nominations this year and finding it frustrating to remember everything I read, I figure if I do it here I'll have something to consult come next year. I'll try to go back and do the first couple issues of the year in a bit. It's mostly for my own use, but I figure other people may be interested too — if you have thoughts on the stories, feel free to chime in. 🙂
- "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down", by William Preston (novelette) — a really wonderful deconstruction of pulp/superhero/superspy stories, well-written and thoughtful; definitely potential Hugo material.
- "The Tower", by Kristine Katheryn Rusch —
the novella (novelette); it didn't grab me, so I didn't read it.
- "Blind Cat Dance", by Alexander Jablokov (novelette) — gene-modded animals and the people who manage them, and manage each other; interesting ideas, an arrestingly wrong protagonist and other interesting and well-developed characters. Hugo potential.
- "Centaurs", by Benjamin Crowell (short story) — Bleh. Hormones IN SPAAAAAACE. One-dimensional teenage protagonists, including a not-very-convincingly-rendered
damsel in distressteenage girl. Its only saving grace is that it didn't have the expected ending, but that wasn't nearly enough to redeem it for me.
- "Ticket Inspector Gliden Becomes the First Martyr of the Glorious Human Uprising", by Derek Zumsteg (short story) — this one was amusing and included some trenchant observations on public transit. It mostly casts tensions of our own time into SFnal terms, but it does so without heavy-handedness. I'm not sure it's Hugo-worthy, but it made me smile.
- "The Speed of Dreams", by Will Ludwigsen (short story) — a cute and amusing story told by a well-realized 8th grader as her science report, with an icepick of an ending. I still can't figure out what I think of it.
- Now I need something new to read on the T. The April/May Asimov's should be up soon — I need to check Pandemonium for it — but in the meantime I'm reading Valentine, written by Alex de Campi and drawn by Christine Larsen, a comic about two soldiers in Napolean's army in its harrowing retreat from Moscow who are entrusted with the future of magic on Earth. It was featured in a Big Idea piece on John Scalzi's web site and caught my eye. It's primarily being distributed for mobile devices, which is actually a pretty pleasant way to read comics, so I'm reading it on my G1 (though it's also available for iPhone and a bunch of other formats). You can download the first issue for free on the Android Marketplace and buy the next three for a buck apiece. Each one is about a T ride for me, and I'm enjoying it so far. Suggestions for other things to read on the T — which is to say short things, especially fiction — would be welcomed. 🙂
- MITSFS got the microfilm scans back — thanks to NESFA for funding the project! They look good — obviously the covers don't come out, but they didn't in the microfilm either, so that's not a loss, and the text is crisp and eminently readable. Now to figure out what to do with them… (My next MITSFS project is probably to find the legal people to make the Google Books thing happen? Gah.)
- I just spent 45 minutes being interviewed by my housemate on my IM habits for his UI design class. It was amusing. Also apparently I have a lot of things I pay attention to. 🙂
Edit 2010-Apr-08: Added story lengths, tagged as asimovs.