Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine: October/November Double Issue
This months Asimov’s is the yearly double issue, and the first that I have read in a while. They keep appearing on my Kindle and a month later get shunted to the ‘past issues of periodicals’ folder, unlooked at and unloved. This is an attempt to remedy that situation. I also get Analog delivered to my P.A.D.D. which, sadly, tends to suffer much the same fate. If these reviews go well (and don’t take up too much of my already limited reading time) I may also renew my subscription to Interzone, and review all 3 of the main SF monthlies on a regular basis. Don’t go holding your breath, though.
I could review the issue as whole, pointing out standout stories, whether good or bad, but I feel that would be cheating a little. I may resort to such underhand and lazy tactics in the future, but this one, at least, I will do properly and in its entirety.
Stealth, Kristine Kathryn Rusch
A woman called Squishy blows up a space station dedicated to research into a form of lost stealth technology. The history of Squishy and stealth research is told in a series of flashbacks, interspersed with scenes of Squishy confronting her ex-husband. A good story, but, whilst flashbacks can be used to very good effect in Science Fiction (See MacLeod’s The Stone Canal for one), this story suffers slightly for the fact that the flashbacks are not in chronological order, they jump all over the timeline, making it slightly difficult to remember what came where, and the introduction of new locations in which previous flashbacks took place only exacerbate this. Enjoyable to read, but would benefit from a second reading just to get the timeline in order, but not a deep enough story to make you want to read it again. Good story, but slightly flawed structurally, I felt.
The Man who Bridged the Mist, Kij Johnson
Set in a world technologically reminiscent of the early C19th, an architect is hired to build the first suspension bridge across the great river that divides the land in two. However, the river is no normal river, it flows with a treacherous, thick, corrossive mist in which giant fish lurk, ready to swallow the boats that ply their way as ferries across its width. The story is part love story between the architect and the most skilled of the ferry pilots, and part love story between the architect and his project, the triumphs of engineering and the loss of life that such an ambitious undertaking brings with it. Finally the story is about the knowledge that the project, just like the ferryman’s job, and even individual lives, will come to an end, and how those who remain have to eventually move on, come what may. A wonderful story that moves slow and stately as the river of mist that it describes.
The Outside Event, Kit Reed
An unpublished writer is invited to a prestigious writers retreat, and locked in for the duration. Every day at least one writer is kicked out, reality TV style, but the prize is fame and fortune at the end for the winner. The thing is, no one knows how to win. This story looks at how book publishing is big business, and how being a writer involves marketing yourself. The story itself channels Agatha Christie in it’s locale and mix of characters, Lovecraft via the ominous Thing in the Lake, and Jane Eyre through the crying and sobbing from the attic. More properly horror than SF, this is nevertheless an excellent tale with a plot that grabs you and drives you along at a cracking pace. The ending is excellently obscure, but could be worded slightly better, just in order to pack a little bit more punch.
My Husband Steinn, Eleanor Arnason
A writer has a summerhouse in a remote region of Iceland which she uses as a retreat. When someone starts leaving unusual gifts ast her back door in the night, she is drawn into a world straight from Icelandic legend. Arnason’s prose is spare and clipped, conjuring up both the desolate, rugged expanses of Iceland as well as the style of Nordic saga’s. The story has a surprisingly large scope for something of this length, but the clipped and clear writing style keeps it from becoming too busy or muddled. Well written and well imagined, leaving me wanting to read more by this author.
The Cult of Whale Worship, Dominica Phetteplace
A good, politically motivated tale from Phetteplace, with just enough science to push this story of viscerally direct protest against the Japanese trade in whale meat into the Science Fiction category. A very slightly muddled beginning leads to some underdeveloped characters that I felt didn’t really need to be there, but the main thrust of the story is good. A very solid first effort. The story is available on Asimov’s website for free here.
This Petty Pace, Jason K. Chapman
A time travel story, with the twist that only images can be sent into the past, and only then blindly. As with most stories that involve time travel, the chronology doesn’t hold up to a great deal of scrutiny, but the plot is entertaining and did not go where I expected it to. There are some wonderful details, and there is plenty of evidence that this story has been carefully crafted.
The Pastry Chef et al, Eugene Mirabelli
An extremely well written story about some deeply unpleasant characters. The Pastry Chef is a woman with no self-esteem whatsoever, the Nanotechnologist a submissive hiding behind misogyny, the Aerobics instructor a manipulative bisexual, the plumber an outright cowboy, and the two non-title characters are equally unpleasant: a linguist who is clearly humouring the pastry chef’s delusions in order to get into her knickers, and an absentee forensic accountant who appears to be emotionally abusing the nanotechnologist. A strange story, lacking anyone for the reader to empathise with. Well crafted, but ultimately unsatisfying.
Free Dog, Jack Skillingstead
Classy little story about a man going through a breakup and a freeware version of an uploaded poodle. Deals with issues of intellectual property in a disarmingly emotive manner. The most engaging and the most human short story in this issue. Excellent.
To Live and Die in Gibbontown, Derek Kunsken
I’m not going to lie, I can’t really see this one straight. I have something of a love for monkeys and apes, and this story is about a self-employed, immigrant macaque (a monkey, in case you were wondering) hired as an assassin, and his dumb-but-bulletproof chimpanzee (ape) sidekick, Murray. It could be terribly written for all I know, but I can’t quite make it out under all the layers of awesome.
A Hundred Hundred Daisies, Nancy Kress
This months token enviro-story comes from Nancy Kress, and looks at the American Midwest in the grip of a global water shortage. Well written, and with a pleasing finish, the story feels more Great Depression than SF. Prophetic as it may be (and this one, according to Ms Kress’ foreword, is intended as prophesy rather than fiction), and perhaps because of that, this type of story depresses the hell out of me. Nicely written, timely, politically right-on, but I still feel it is invading my escapism with too much reality.