Allen M. Steele. The River Horses.
A standalone story in the Coyote sequence, which is set in the future, which supposebly makes it SF.
Michael Swanwick. A Small Room in KobolTown.
The further adventures of Will Le Fey, seen previously in Asimovs in ‘The Word That Sings The Scythe’ (Oct/Nov 2004), ‘An Episode of Stardust’ (Jan 2006), and ‘Lord Weary’s Empire’ (Dec 2006), having been introduced in ‘King Dragon’, collected in Dozois’ 21st Annual Collection.
‘King Dragon’ and ‘The Word That Singes the Scythe’ were both excellent, but the latter stories have seen the series rather tailoff, and this story is a rather weak end, being little more than an excuse to set up a ‘locked room’ murder mystery. Evidently this series in Asimovs is collected in a novel – ‘The Dragons of Babel’, which it would appear is going to mirror ‘The Iron Dragon’s Daughter’ from Swanwick from some 15 years ago, which also started off very strongly, and then faded towards the end.
Liz Williams. Wolves of the Spirit.
A short, atmospheric fantasy, in which a young woman, on a remote lighthouse, finds herself at the forefront of an encroaching darkness, the personification of which she has to stand up to herself.
Robert Silverberg. The Eater of Dreams.
A short, short, spread over three sides, but only taking up two sides. A servant to the Queen has an onerous role, which has to be undertaken to ensure that she sleeps well each night.
William Barton. The Rocket into Planetary Space.
With NASA having disappointed many baby boomer SF writers in recent years, and a range of ‘what if’ stories about the 60s/70s space program, the recent developments in private space travel have energised some, and here Barton outlines a privately funded expedition which uses affordable, available tech to get his motley crew to land on a passing asteroid, and discover…
Lisa Goldstein. Lilyanna.
A library-based ghost story, where the librarian finds that the dusty archives contain more life than you might expect.
Mike Resnick. Distant Replay.
Resnick’s getting a little sentimental of late, here showing us an elderly widower who comes across a young girl very much like his late wife was in her halcyon days. Very much. Can he find that true love again. Or does he have a less selfish role to play?
Nancy Kress. End Game.
Short effective piece in which a scientist finds a way of enabling people to clear their minds of distractions, to let them concentrate on one thing to a much greater extent. But this leads to autistic-savant type focus, and when it begins to spread…
Karen Joy Fowler. Always.
Another shorter story, which is a bit of a downer, as with the previous story, as the length enables an idea to be described, but not much more. Here, a commune appears to offer longevity to those who enter its doors. But as you might expect, this shangri-la has its problems.
Jack McDevitt. Fifth Day.
McDevitt makes an impact through a character whose death the story begins with. A report is intrigued to be told that the scientist had evidently made a breakthrough discovery about the genesis of life – but had been keeping the results to himself. In meeting the man’s estranged parents, he realises that the interpretation of the findings, which could be seen to support those with a belief in creationism, may have had an impact on this secrecy.
Gene Wolfe. Green Glass.
A man in a Wolfean dream-like state, finds himself in an alien environment, and meets a young woman, with whom he discusses the nature of their abduction/imprisonment. But who is dreaming?
Lucius Shepard. Dead Money.
The issue finishes with the longest and strongest story. Voodoo and zombies, gambling for high stakes – very high stakes as those gamblers are men with connections. You can feel the dead eyes of the zombified gambler staring out at you, as a small time hoodlum gets sucked deeper, and deeper into some very bad juju.
Not the strongest issue, with Shepard providing an engrossing read to close the issue. If you’re looking for a lot of spacesuits and spaceships, you’ll be disappointed, as only Barton provides hardcore Science Fiction. Steele’s is set the furthest afield in terms of space and time, but a minor rewrite could set the story in any historical milieu you fancy. But ten short stories in a row make for an unbalanced issue. Well, actually it is balanced, as its bookended by the two longest stories, but in terms of being a strong issue, a couple of the shorter stories should really have either been pulled in favour of a longer one, or a couple pulled and one written at greater length.
On reflection, there’s a feel of staid conservatism running through, with most of the authors staying on relatively well-proven and safe territory, an insular feel if you like, that feels like it is really looking back on the last 30 years, rather than actually looking forward and outward. Almost exclusively American writers, almost exclusively aged 50+ I’m guessing, and providing a reasonably good story of the type you generally get from them, but noting that bit special.