Asimovs April/May 2015

asimovs150405Bumper double-issue.

Eugene Fischer. The New Mother

Gamete Diploidy Syndrome aka Human Communicable Parthenogenesis aka Human Asexual Reproductive Syndrome has just been identified – triggered by a sexually transmitted disease, it causes women to become pregnant without any external (or internal as it were) assistance.

An overenthusiastic Texan preacher has taken steps to prevent some of his flock catching the condition – surgery on four sisters, the youngest only two. There girl’s mother had caught it and the daughters were the result of it, and the story focusses on, rather than the religious/political/societal issues (although these are covered), a young reporter, herself pregnant by her samesex partner, who wants/needs to track down the mother for the story of the decade.

It’s a lengthy story, seen through the journos eyes with some limited infodumping and article text insertion, with the narrative strings tied off quickly in the closing couple of pages, with the really big societal issues left for the novel that is in progress that takes place 20 years after this story.

21st Feb 2016 update : nominated for a Nebula Award. It was fine enough, quite Nancy Kress-ish, but without her deft touch in handling characters.

Tom Purdom. Day Job.

Len is a young man with some personality issues, a techie just a bit too far into the autistic spectrum to be able to relate with others comfortable, and consequently hold down a job or a relationship. He seeks help, and the story unfolds as a psychiatrist attempts to help him with his lack of empathy and emotional control, through counselling, although there is a more invasive medical solution as an option.

As the story progresses we find out more about Len, and his (altogether nastier) alter ego in immersive video games, a much darker character, and the tension racks up, and the psychiatrists monitoring his behaviour (and that of many others) may need to come to the rescue of the damsel in distress.

An altogether unpleasant main character.

Michael Swanwick and Gregory Frost. Lock up your chickens and daughters -H’ard and Andy are come to town!

Bill and Ted meets O Brother Where Art Thou? meets The Dukes of Hazzard as in a near-future dustbowl America, two young chancers turn up and try to run a con, but have the local sheriff and his daughter to factor into the equation.

Joe McDermott. Paul and his Son.

An interesting look at a father’s (non) relationship with his son. The son is going through those awkward teen years, but his parent’s see it as more than that, with a self-destructive tendency that needs addressing – and with locking him in his bedroom, implanting him with chipas and other methods having failed, drugs appear to be the only solution.

However, whilst Paul’s own issues at that time of his life were helped by drugs, the current administration is far less willing to provide medication of this kind, and the black market appears to be the only solution.

The story is told through the father’s perspective, and for me the question is the extent to which his need to control the son’s behaviour is part of the problem. It would be interesting to have the story presented from the son’s perspective, as the story as it is addresses lack of ability to take care (or control) of a minor, whilst the other side of the equation is a young adult’s right to make decisions about their life.

Liz Williams. The Marriage of the Sea.

Fractionally over 3 pages long, and not much to get your teeth into. The story looks at the fanaticism necessary to carry out an act beyond the ken of most people – although we don’t really need to use fantasy to explore that issue these days!

The fanatic in question is about to give her life to the sea gods, and is ‘rescued’ by those with good intentions, except that it’s a short term rescue as she is able to carry out her intentions. The story doesn’t give enough to engage with her, and we aren’t able to see how her fanaticism came about, so it’s merely a sketch. For those of you wishing to explore this issue, make sure you watch the film ‘Four Lions‘, although you have to be tuned in to the British sense of humour to get the most from this dark comedy that does get under the skin of the jihadi.

Robert Reed. What I Intend.

Reed’s ‘Will He?’ in Fantasy and Science Fiction Sept/Oct 2014 featured a fairly unpleasant protagonist, and here he has another uncompromising character, who is determined to use Big Data to address some Big Questions. He is successful, but the answer to the Big Question isn’t what he had hoped for, and for once in his life he has to be satisfied with just that.

Anna Tambour. The Gun Between the Veryush and the Cloud Mothers.

Far-future stories, and those with an alien perspective can be tricky to pull off. Matthew Kressel succeeded recently in Clarkesworld with his The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies.

Tambour, in contract doesn’t quite pull it off in her story. Firstly I found myself totally pulled out of the story with two uses over a few paragraphs of “There were no words for ‘xxxx’ in Cheema’s language’ (the emotion ‘pity’ in one instance and ‘luck’ in the the other). Why just those two cases? Why not pepper every single reference to anything with an aside to the reader about how this alien creature does/doesn’t compare to humanity?

Secondly, Tambour uses new words in some cases – “Number 6, the new krez of only a monmoth, sat in the swivel chair at the altar”. Why replace some words with krez and monmoth, but keep swivel chair and altar?

And fourthly, the reference in the story to a plaque ‘Dedicated to Simon Ng’??

(If you’re wondering about the third issue it was krumbtincked and fezwanglified at ’32.)

So, somewhat opaque and in need of the application of some literary Cif.

Jay O’Connell. Willing Flesh.

Another short, neat peek into the near-future urban life, technology and what it does to us from O’Connell.

Here a young man, recently split from his girlfriend, finds an online training program helps him to get quite buff, indeed he becomes a new man. Thing is, the new man rather dominates the old one, with worrying results….

Fran Wilde. How to Walk Through Historic Graveyards in the Post-Digital Age.

Clever use of tech by Wilde – the protagonist has returned from an overseas trip as an embedded journalist. She was on the front line, and using tech that enhanced her vision, recording what she saw and storing it, enabling her to get up very close and personal with the GI Joes and Janes.

However, she got rather too close to the action, and has been shipped back home, with physical and mental scars, and some ghosts left in the machine – not all highly classified stuff she saw has been wiped clear, as the authorities believe. And back home, visiting a church ad graveyard of her youth, she finds she is much, much more in tune with those spending their time there, including, delightfully, Tallullah Bankhead (younger readers will benefit from a look at wikipedia!)

Frank Smith. The Sentry.

A short story, the meat of which is an incident in a yard where a returning veteran has to carry out a humane act, and explain that to his son. The background is the sfnal one, in that his combat has been off-planet. But the fact that he has been off-planet isn’t relevant to the father-son relationship, and overall it’s just a little too short to get engaged with the characters.

Allen M. Steele. The Children of Gal.

Another (concluding?) installment in Steele’s ‘Arkwright’ series, which hasn’t grabbed me at all – read my comments on preceding stories here, here, and here. But it appears Tor.com like the stories enough to be putting out a novelisation next year.

This story is introduced as ‘very much a stand alone’ by editor Sheila Williams, but I have to disagree!

It starts out quite interesting, with a ‘heretical’ mother being cast out of her community. They’re clearly descended from the Arkwright’s of earlier stories (due to their names) but they are quite different in terms of physiology, and there are some strange religious beliefs against which the mother has transgressed. So the first few pages explore this, her son’s response to it, and the aftermath.

The second half then sees a lot being revealed to the son, and to the reader, in a fairly long-winded second half of the story where humans drop down to the community and take the son into orbit, and explain – in very great detail (and I mean very great detail) exactly what has happened, how he and his community have descended from baseline humans, how their religious beliefs have come about, and how he is directly descended from an earlier character.

It just feels to me like the very latter series of Dallas, mining out every last drop of oil in a not very exciting fashion. If you were glued to Dallas, and enjoy this kind of multi-generational planetary exploration story (I don’t, and didn’t enjoy Steele’s previous ‘Coyote’ series, although that got a book series contract) then you might well have got all emotional at the end, but not me….

Conclusion

There’s a lot in this double issue, although the more substantial stories don’t quite do it for me.

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