Asimovs, April/May 2008

Kathleen Ann Goonan. Memory Dog.

The issue opens with a very clever and accomplished story with a strong ending. The protagonist is a dog – or, to be more accurate, a dog with the memory of a man overlaid on it. The man has chosen to live a shorter, canine life primarily as a penance for the death of his young daughter. Knowing that his wife will never forgive him, he returns to the family home in his new guise, where his wife is now living with a political opponent of the repressive government regime.

The recent introduction of new drugs have liberated human memory, offering opportunities for good, but also having unintended consequences, exacerbating the societal problems. The new partner is a newspodder – someone who publishes his political observations on the ether, to be picked up by others who choose to receive information in this democratic airborne means. However, having been picked up by the government, he is returned in a damaged state and the couple, and their new dog must flee.

The story wonderfully evokes the loss of the daughter, the breakup of the marriage, the sheer joy of the father/dog as it returns to the family home, and comes to a powerful conclusion as a solution to the problems of aggression and violence is let loose.

Neal Barrett Jr. Slidin’.

15 years ago or so Barrett’s ‘The Last Cardinal Bird in Tennessee’ introduced a very motley collection of white trash. An even stranger family group are on a pilgrimage to see what is left of the old city of Dallis after the awful events almost three hundred years past.

The family group is a very ill-matched group, all save Laureen showing extremely clearly evidence of having been paddling in a very shallow gene pool abd/or the effects of radioactive contamination. The whys and wherefores of this blasted, arid country are hinted at throughout, and the results of the West’s response to the perceived challenges of those in the East having long term effects. Fear of the other is paramount, and those who have been seen as a threat to the American Way have been rightly exorcised. Pity poor Laureen, symmetrical and very much of those from the old days who caused all this suffering.

Robert Reed. The House Left Empty.

Near future, and an older guy is sitting on the porch of his house in his self governing community. The US of A is mostly a thing of the past, and whilst some things have been lost, like the Internet and telecoms and central government, they’re not mostly missed as solar power and nanotech enable a comfortable existence.

However, a delivery for a neighbour recently departed to live with his daughter brings a bigger perspective – the content is in fact one of a number of small spherical spaceships designed to be sent on their way from an orbiting railgun. Whilst some things that have been lost aren’t missed, we may in fact be missing out on reaching for the skies.

Merrie Haskell. An Almanac for the Alien Invaders.

A strong story from a previously small-press writer. Set against a calendar of astronomical events, we follow a woman, alienated from her husband, and unwanted by her university, who denies her tenure, who turns instead to the conquering alien race, in whose thrall humanity must remain for one hundred generations.

As with conquering nations on Earth, the treasures of those they now rule are removed, and she willingly takes on a role in shipping humanity’s archeological treasures to the alien planets. Can she find solace and consolation in the fact that despite her name going down in history as a traitor, that eventually the treasures will return to Earth.

Nick Wolven. An Art, Like Everything Else.

A first professional sale, and keeps up the standard of the issue. In an uploaded world, a long-term relationship between a couple has come to an end, with the older partner, well into his second century, finally coming to that point when there is just too much to remember, and deciding it is time to terminate.

His partner struggles with this, not able to come to terms with his loss, unwilling to give up his partner, whose ghost/echo remains, as expunging all information about his from the digital world is not a simple matter. Hed finds his lover returning from time to time, disorientated and distressed, and they slip between the various sims they enjoyed whilst together – including their favourite alpine lodge.

It’s a very human story, the main protagonist a believable character, and the relationship and the emotions are handled very well.

S.P. Somtow. An Alien Heresy.

S.P. Somtow appeared on the Best SF radar in the 80s, sometimes under the guise of Somtow Sucharitkul, and he’s back after a lengthy gap that evidently includes composing operas and setting up the Bangkok Opera.

This is a very powerful return to form, telling the story of a mediavel inquisitor re-visiting a remote village in which there is a heretic to be brought to book. However, the heretic claims to be not of this world, which has to make him/it a servant of the devil. The inquisitor finds his beliefs challenged by the creature during his conversations with it, and also through coming to terms with his own actions in the past.

It’s a dark, disturbing story.

Catherine Wells. Ghost Town.

Going back to the old family home can be difficult at the best of times. For an astronaut whose two-year extra-solar system journey failed to counteract the Doppler Effect on FTL travel and ended up with fourteen years passing on Earth, it is even more problematic.

With a younger sister now older than her, and with the small town she was brought up in now a very quiet town mostly owned by people using it for country retreates, the astronaut is feeling very disconnected. When a chance to get a place on the next trip to the planet she had previous explored turns up, she has a choice to make.

Kate Wilhelm. Strangers When We Meet.

Surprisingly, it is the venerable Wilhelm who provides one of the weaker stories in the issues. It is somewhat Analog-y in having a fairly creaky premise and several events happening very quickly to get the story to its conclusion. A scientist working on a revolutionary mind-mapping technology is contacted by a former senior colleague who happens to have a very interesting amnesiac case on his hands, and the fact that the patient totally forgets the events of the previous day (as a result of a car crash which killed her mother and brother )upon awakening each morning, the daily tabula rasa making her eminently suitable for this mind-mapping technology.

The mind-mapping goes well, but government forces get wind of it, and the scientist fears as to what might happen if the research gets into their hands, leaving her to trash the findings, and get the subject out of town with the help of colleague. Having avoided the tech falling into the hands of the men in suits, the helpful colleague manages to fix the amnesia by dint of keeping the subject up all night with cups of strong java.

It all feels just a bit X-Filesy.

Matthew Johnson. Another Country.

There are time fissures through which refugees from times past are arriving, and Geoff’s job is to greet the bewildered individuals upon arrival, part of the acclimatisation process. Many, like him, go on to integrate quite happily, but a substantial few remain permanently alienated. Is it better to be a stranger in a safe land, or at home in your own dangerous land?

Barry B. Longyear. The Advocate.

Larry is a writer with pre-senile dementia attempts to concentrate on writing as he faculties gradually erode, having imprinted his brain onto a clone. We follow his descent, until such time that he is a mere mental shadow of his former self. When his clone decides that his quality of life has fallen to such an extent that it would be a mercy to ease his suffering, he is surprised to find that whils thte mental faculties have withered, he still has plenty of strength.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The Room of Lost Souls.

Having sagged a little after such a strong start, the double-issue finishes with a strong SF mystery/thriller/adventure. It follows on from ‘Diving into the Wreck’ from Dec 2005, which has the interesting idea of space wrecks in deep space with ancient alien forces in play.

The lengthy story has a similar pattern, with a mystery to be solved based around a room in such a space hulk in which those who enter do not return. There’s a lot of depth to the story, with the salvage/diving expert from the first story nursing her losses from that previous adventure, being offered an opportunity to solve the similarly anomalous locale. Rusch being also a crime writer, not everything is as it seems, and not everyone is is what or who they say. The protagonist’s father is involved, and there are motives and tensions in play. As before, the mission does not go as planned, and fatalities occur.

Conclusion.

I upbraided (downbraided?) the previous issue for not being as substantial content-wise as most double issues. That was a tad unfair as in fact the previous issue was a single issue, and this is a double-issue, and this double-issue highlights the kind of substantial, high-quality SF that Asimov’s double-issues generally provide!

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