Carol Emshwiller. Riding Red Ted and Breathing Fire.
I’m not a big fan of stories with dragons, but this one took my fancy. Emshwiller creates a believable, flawed character, a military man taking a mission for money, more concerned about his appearance and worried that he will not be accorded respect due to his status, than matters ethical or moral. Emshwiller gets his voice, his internal dialogue, just right, showing up the extent to which other stories typically fail in this respect, or don’t even try to attempt it.
The human-dragon relationship is a more complex one than is of the case, and including instructional manual material for dragon riders is a neat touch.
Josh Roseman. Greener.
Roseman looks at some current trends to explore love, sex and relationships in the near future, through the eyes of a young man who regrets his decision not to renew his relationship contract with his partner after eight years and one child.
Roseman’s first story in Asimovs (‘Bring on the Rain’) was an action-packed drama, and he attempts a much more difficult story here, in looking at relationships and getting into the mind of the protagonist, and it just feels a little less subtle than it needs to be.
Ian Creasey. Souvenirs.
A young mother struggling to make ends meet by selling her carvings and some miscellaneous souvenirs to those passing through a spaceport is passed counterfeit money and decides to seek out the guilty party. Nice enough as far as the story goes, looking at some of the seamier aspects of space travel, without really going (boldly or otherwise) anywhere that hasn’t been gone before.
Gray Rinehart. Sensitive, Compartmented.
I’ve been reading stories from the various Year’s Best anthologies of late, and having just read two smooth as butter stories by Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link, this proved to be a jarring experience. It’s quite clunkily written, and a few pages into a story with a military setting featuring abbreviations and capitals and a ‘statuesque blonde in Battle Dress Utilities’ I baled out.
More of an Analog story – not the quality of writing I expect from Asimovs.
Sandra McDonald. Sexy Robot Mom.
McDonald’s ‘Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots’ from Strange Horizons was collected by Strahan in his Year’s Best Volume 5 (Best SF Review with link to online story here).
The story starts as if it is going to be a light-hearted look at sexbots, as Alina, one of the early 7832BNX7 series, is overhauled before being implanted with a fetus that she will carry to term as a surrogate. We follow her through two such pregnancies, returning base to have memories wiped and other parts cleaned and tested. Then the story suddenly gets darker, and colder, and Alina has to draw on the various resources programmed in to her, and to bring to term the baby inside in circumstances altogether outside of her programming and decision-trees. The story ends begging for a sequel.
Tom Purdom. Bonding with Morry.
An elderly man eschews the potential friendship his robotic domestic servant can offer, to the extent of refusing the more humanoid presentation that is the norm. This leads him into a bit of trouble with those promoting rights and humane treatment for robots.
These are pretty much the same issues Asimov was covering a l-o-n-g time ago – his first robot story ‘Robbie’ was published in 1940, and which I read the ‘I, Robot’ collection in 1974ish many of the stories were 25years old even then. So not a great deal to add to this genre here, although there’s a touch of maudlin sentimentality with the Goodbye Mr Chips ending.
Rick Wilber. Something Real.
A couple of years ago Wilber, with Nick diChario, provided a fairly mainstream baseball story in F&SF (Best SF Review).
Here his protagonist is one Moe Berg, a quick wikipedia search identifying him as famous as being one of the cleverest men to play baseball, and who worked in WWII as a spy in Europe. Wilber puts him in Europe with Heisenberg, and of course this leads to it being a many worlds scenario, with the world he is in one in which Mussolini was assassinated but where the Second World War looks like it may take a different turn. Berg has to find out whether Heisenberg and his team are sufficiently close to creating an A-Bomb to need assassinating.
The story(ies) have some clever touches, and nice to see The Hindenberg having a role to play.
James Patrick Kelly. The Last Judgment.
A lengthy novella (24,360 words according to my Kindle) that ultimately doesn’t quite deliver on a bold premise.
That bold premise is the one in Kelly’s Nebula Award finalist ‘Men Are Trouble’ from 2004 – a society without men.
Kelly achieves this through aliens that arrived on Earth and instantly removed all the men from the planet, are now impregnating (on an essentially immaculate conception basis) women with female embryos, and have intelligent robots through which they communicate with humans (the aliens being bird/bat-like creatures) and who do a lot of domestic and manual work for humanity. Womankind, or the female-only humanity has struggled with this, with the early years following the disappearance of men featuring panic, suicide, rioting and so forth.
It’s not perhaps the subtlest way of approaching a number of topics around gender, and the story itself ditto. The protagonist is a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, bicycling(!), cynical Private Investigator (I have to confess Officer, that I have a dislike for such stories), who has a wife and a daughter – she has very male characteristics. Womankind/humanity has to some extent descended into butch/femme roles, and gender reassignment surgery has a key role in society, and in the story.
The plot revolves around a whodunnit (a theft and a murder) and the aliens are disappointingly vague characters. The crux of the story, is that the aliens, or some of them, at least, are wondering if their removing of men was in retrospect a good idea. Ideally the story could have got into the minds of the aliens, their politics and so forth, to give insight into this issue. As it is, there’s detail about surgery and phalloplasty (ewwww) and just not enough subtlety for my liking. And the robots are just too like C3PO in terms of their manners!
There’s little description of the society, and it did feel like it was set in the 1950s rather than the 2050s or so it was set in. Indeed the story felt as if it was written in the 1950s, when we had a clear male/female society, and homosexuality (amongst men) was still illegal in the UK – rather than the 2010s where we have (in many countries) a more metrosexual, transexual, polysexual, asexual, trysexual, genderblended society – for aliens to travel to our planet and remove all the men seems just too simplistic. And fortunately as I was reading on a Kindle, I didn’t have to fold the magazine over to avoid other people seeing the cover of the magazine. This may seem overly harsh, but a comparator for this story would be P.D. James novel ‘Children of Men’ – a story on a similar theme (no more children) that would meet the benchmark to reach (this is Best SF, remember, not Good SF, Reasonably Good SF, or Fair to Middling SF).
David Ira Cleary. Living in the Eighties.
Cleary has written a couple of SF stories that have featured pop/rock/punk, and this lengthy time travel story kept my attention due to being firmly embedded in the music of my 20s. Any story that mentions New Order, Siouxsie, The Cure, and The Velvet Underground gets a thumbs up from me.
Having said that, if the story had features hair metal, prog rock or been Living in the Nineties, I probably would have been unwilling to stay the course of the 24,000 words, as the story, featuring repeated website-enabled trips back to the 80s, in fact featured rather too many trips, and could have done with 4,000 words and one trip less.
The plot is fairly standards for a time travel one – the protagonist wants to go back in time to make changes to what happened that resulted in his girlfriend driving off a bridge and dying. (SPOILER – anyone remotely well-versed in time travel stories will guess where the story leads in that direction!).
But the music, the method of time travel, the characterisation of the protagonist and his diabetic friend who travels to the future to find a cure for his condition, and spotting the subtle butterflywings changes on each return keep the reader engaged. Unless, perhaps the reader is in their teens and has very little knowledge of the bands and fashion styles being mentioned.
Had the story been set in the late 70s/early 80s and featured The Clash, Siouxsie, and Joy Division (all of whom I saw live) and been set in England, it would have been so close to my youth to have freaked me out. In fact, had it done that, the story would in fact have been written by me, but in an alternate world where I didn’t give up my attempts at writing SF in 1976 at 16.
Strong issue with Cleary and Emshwiller the pick for me.