Asimovs. April/May 2011.


Alexander Jablokov. The Days the Wires Came Down.
A second consecutive story in Asimovs from Jablokov which didn’t do much for me. Actually, to be truthful, it did do something for me – it disappointed me.

The set up was perfect – classy cover to illustrate a steam-punkish story in which cable cars strung between the tops of high rise buildings are a means of public transport. Great setting, but the story reads almost as an unpolished draft. The editorial intro points out that Jablokov’s inspiration for the story came from a dream he had in his teens, and you could believe that the story was written by his teen self in a mad rush upon waking up.

There’s some clumsy writing – how’s this for a description of the difficulties of being a twin : ‘It was constant battle, what came from being born within fifteen minutes of someone else but still being completely different from him’.

The story quickly speeds the reader through the adventures of the teenage siblings, who through a sheet of old newspaper wrapping a present, quickly (!) unravel a mystery surrounding a fatal cable car crash. It’s impossible to engage with either of the children (the point of view slips between them awkwardly) as they aren’t given any depth, and having them quickly describe historical events, and then relate how they have worked out how those events would actually have unfolded, just didn’t work for me.

All in all, a story below that which I’d expect from Jablokov or Asimovs. Better suited for an anthology aimed at mid-teens or for those adults who enjoy the children’s books featuring Harry Potter.

Michael Swanwick. An Empty House with Many Doors.

A short but exquisite love story, as a man deals (or not) with heartbreaking loss, to find that there are other universes where things are quite different. Rather than going for a happy ever after ending, Swanwick still finds resolution for the protagonist.

Mike Resnick. The Homecoming.

A consecutive short and emotionally intense story in the issue looking at the impact on humans of loss through an sfnal lens.

A son returns home, much changed, having taken a decision to undergo fundamental surgical change to live out his dreams on a distant planet. He’s estranged from his father due to having made this decision, and finds he is now estranged from his mother due to his dementia. The story plays about between the three, as the impact of his decision and the reponses to it are reviewed. Unlike Swanwick’s story, Resnick’s tilts just that bit over the line towards mawkishness – not for the most part, as the spiky reaction to his ‘son’ by the ageing father is well done, but just in the closing stages, where the mother regains, momentarily, a grasp on reality, and father and son are duly brought together. Aw shucks.

Nick Mamatas. North Shore Friday.

Intriguing first story from Mamatas to pass my eyes.

It’s the mid-1960s, and Greek immigrants are being illegally smuggled into New York through Long Island, and its a cat and mouse game between the Greeks and the authorities. Except that in this story the authorities have full-time, large scale brainscanning in place.

This conceit enables Mamatas to provide a refreshingly different narrative, where we do literally get into the minds of those involved on one particular night, and the text is broken up by the random throughts being picked up by those in charge of the scanning equipment. Mamatas also keeps it simple, not overdoing the brainscanning, and making it a clever adjunct and element to the story, rather than contriving a more complicated plot hinging on the technology.

William Preston. Clockworks.

Preston’s ‘Helping Them Take the Old Man Down’ from Asimovs in March 2010, impressed me (click here for that review).

It also garnered, and has continued to do, quite a high number of hits on Best SF via Google. Clearly a lot of people were intrigued/confused about the story. Preston has taken the opportunity to revisit his character (killing the character off in the first story didn’t leave much in the way of an opportunity for the continuing adventures of his protagonist).

Here he delves back into the earlier days of this pulp hero, more of a Doc Savage than a Superman, in his halcyon days. He’s clearly in his pomp, intellect the size of a planet, artic HQ in fine fettle, and a team of dedicated assistants who will follow him to the end of the Earth. And, indeed, avoidance of that fate is what the story is about. But whilst the story progresses more than nicely through an eldritch threat to humanity, with a memorable struggle, it weaves in thoughtful consideration of ethics and moral judgments about crime and ciminality and responsibility for actions. Marvellous.

Rudy Rucker. The Fnoor Hen.

Entertaining techno-yarn from Rucker, featuring a young urban couple with a toddler. Even though it’s a high-tech world, a few years from now, there still remain the usual challenges to such people – getting on the housing ladder, getting a bigger housing, managing jobs and child-rearing.

Bix has found something interesting in his tech work with squidskins, under contract with a couple of Manilans living nearby. When the discussion over who has rights to his morphon muncher go to the next level, thinks get funky chicken.

Christopher Barzak. Smoke City.

Dark satanic mills in this subterranean landscape, where the workers are repressed, and where child labour is the norm. Very much the norm.

In contrast, the world above is more milk and honey – and the story explores one woman who travels between the two, and the challenges she faces in the darker world, where childbirth and giving up children to the employers is bad enough, but there is a fate even worse than that….

Tom Purdom. A response from EST17.

A not particularly memorable story. Two exploration vessels have arrived on an alien planet from Earth. Both are controlled by AIs, but they are from different factions on Earth. Co-incidentally, each engages with a different alien faction on the planet.

The story has potential, in terms of the AIs, and the politics, but doesn’t really deliver – it’s routine rather than inspiring. The aliens aren’t particularly alien (humans with feathers rather than fur, duh), and the final conflict is delivered with the dramatic impact of someone describing a real-time strategy computer game.

Esther M. Friesner. The One That Got Away.

Fans of classic horror will go ape over this mashup, that has a sacrificial victim escaping the large grasp of one character, but who finds herself in the tentacles of an altogether older menace. Fortunately, for the reader, the heroine is not a wilting blonde, but an altogether feistier gal, who is quite willing to look unspeakable horrors in the eye(s) and seeing the bright side of things.

Jack Skillingstead. The Flow and Dream.

A memorable opening sequence sees someone waking up after a long, long time asleep on an alien planet. The years, even in the sleeper casket, have taken their toll physically, and the strains of the initial landing on the the planet, and the impact of the alien virus, have left deep psychological scars.

The temptation to slip back into the caress of the dream is strong, even when a possibility for life to go forward on the planet appears. It’s a short but strong, tense psychological piece.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Becalmed.

A human spaceship is becalmed in foldspace, hit by a vessel from the chasing Quurzod. Inside, one of the few survivors of a human delegation on the alien planet is struggling with what happened there. Her mind has blanked out what happened, and she has to confront horrific memories, either alone or as part of an investigation into the events, before she can also move forward.

There’s a xenolinguistic element, but this is part of an overall story about understanding cultures (and failing to understand them), about politics, and war, and a good conclusion to the issue.

Conclusion.

A very strong double issue.

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