oct/nov asimov’s

"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.