Asimovs, December 2007

Connie Willis. All Seated on the Ground.

I normally have a beef at having to read Asimovs’ christmas issue some months before the holiday period. So it’s a bit of a change to finally getting round to reading this one some time after the holiday period. Maybe one year I’ll actually read a christmas story over christmas, and the synchronicity of reading a festive story whilst all around is deep and crisp and even will be just perfect.

Actually, that is not going to happen : this part of England has had only two reasonable snowfalls in the last 25 years by my reckoning (reasonable being snow that is a couple of inches deep and lasts more than a few hours).

So in mid-January, with it mild and wet, first up is Connie Willis’ christmas turkey.

OK, not quite a turkey, but not a story that I really wanted to spend some time under the mistletoe with. It should have been a short story, but its been stretched out to novella length – the kind of Joan Rivers too much stretching kind of stretching. It’s a light hearted story of alien communication, almost a pastiche of the xenolinguistic nonsense that we frequently see. Here, the central conceit, which it takes quite a while to get to, is that the aliens who have turned up on Earth eschew all the kinds of communication attempts used on them, until the main protagonist wises up to the fact that carol singing is the way to get through to them. There are some neat touches of course, including the dynamics of the team put together, particulary the religious representative desperate to have the aliens listen to the word of the Lord.

If it were a Xmas carol, the story would be Bing Crosby singing ‘Little Drummer Boy’. Me, I’m more of a Pogues’/Macoll ‘Fairytale in New York’ kind of guy.

Tim McDaniel. The Lonesome Planet Travelers’ Advisory.

McDaniel gets his xmas frivolity over in just the right amount of space – a few sides of wry Lonely Planet-type travelogue for visiting aliens.

Jack Skillingstead. Strangers on a Bus.

A young woman is on a greyhound bus out of town – getting away from her partner, who has turned out to be less of a Mr Right and more of a Mr Goodbar. The guy sitting next to her has his own problems, and in sharing them, there is a danger that the world view he has, and the stories he makes about the people he meets, are in fact the stories with which they have to live. At a rest stop she finds out that he knows much, much more about her than he should – does this give weight to his assertation that she is little more than a figment of her imagination. It’s a very strongly handled character piece, but stops at just the point it would move from a non-genre story into a genre story, with the denouement. So we’re left with two lonely people whose worlds intersect at a point in time.

Nancy Kress. The Rules.

As with the Willis story, one which disappoints, as I often get so much from the author. Having finished the story I had forgotten who had written it, and checking back, it came as a bit of a surprise that is was Nancy Kress – I had been expecting someone with less pedigree.

It feels somewhat of an Analog story – two characters put together, with a scientific issue in the background, which is discussed, and a solution identified. The background is that of global warming, and an attempt being made through interrupting television broadcasts, to highlight the desperate need of those living in areas suffering from desertification. The person who is spending heavily to interrupt the broadcasts is visited by someone who has wised up to part of the plot. We find out that there is more to it than it seems, as there is a scientific solution – nanotech that will coat the deserts with an ultra-reflective surface, to increase dramatically the amount of sunlight bounced back out of the atmosphere.

The dialog between the two, and a shift in perspective, and the use of a third party in the desert, just all come across as a slightly contrived way of getting the story and message across.

Stephen Graham Jones. Do (this).

Similary, a dinner table conversation gets across a lot of detail in Jones’ shorter story. Or rather, mostly a monologue, as the head of the household ponders his work, and the relationship between conciousness and language. This leads the son, through whose bored ears we hear this debated, then takes up his programming tools on his PC and does some experimentation.

The ending is surprisingly effective, as the PC, through the programming language, is able not only to achieve language use, but also consciousness, and love.

Allen M. Steele. Galaxy Blues, the Pride of Cucamonga. Pt 2 of 4.

Two down, two to go. (Presumably, like this dude Steele has got negatives of Sheila Williams?)


Christmas? Bah, humbug. Skillingstead and Jones being the closest to christmas crackers.

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