Asimovs, December 2008

Tim Sullivan. Way Down East.

A very well crafted story which used the very alien to look at human alienation, separation and grief.

We have had First Contact, and whilst the visitor from Gliese 581c has had some impact, life of course goes on. Or not necessarily so for the protagonists, two fisherman from New England who have spent a lot of money on a boat with a view to garnering tourist money for trips to sea. The odd couple ex-lobstermen have issues themselves – Laurent’s wife has left him, and Donny is estranged from his son, whose sexuality has been a problem for him. The two ageing fishermen find themselves in the right place at the right time, as The Gleezer, as he/it is colloqually known, takes up the offer they make via the escorting retinue of government agents, to take to sea with them. It looks like the handsome fee they charge will go a long way to paying off the loan on the boat.

The Gleezer is housed in an airtight container, and whilst direct contact with him/it is impossible, the sudden realisation of what must be an aching loneliness, so far from home, has a profound impact on the fishermen.

It’s a rich, robust, human story, and the only criticism of it is that it makes a lot of other SF look very thin indeed.

Kathryn Lance and Jack McDevitt. Welcome to Valhalla.

Richard Wagner is visited by someone who shows him the role his music will play (however small) in creating a culture of nationalism that will lead to six million dead in the extermination camps of the 1940s. Will he decide to withdraw his music to prevent it playing a role in this future?

Steven Utley. Perfect Everything.

A story from Utley not in his Silurian series, which is as rare as a hen’s tooth. The good news is that it’s a proper SF story, and even better news, it’s a good one. A member of a space exploration crew is keeping in touch with home through a sim in which he is able to communication with a virtual embodiment of his lover. However, the perfect virtual world to which he retreats is not a true reflection of the state of the relationship, as we find out through finding out more about him, as the trip turns sour.

Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem. In Concert.

An excellent piece from the Tems, a touching story of an elderly woman whose ‘talent’ for picking up the thoughts of others, no matter how distant, enables her to communicate, after a fashion, with an astronaut lost in space. As her life closed down, increasingly frail and wracked by Parkinson’s, he is ekeing out his final days, so far from home. There is no dramatic rescue for the astronaut, it’s not that kind of story, but an uplifting albeit melancholy look at two people far distant from home, about to become even more distant.

Geoffrey A. Landis. Still on the Road.

Short piece which wakes the spirit of Kerouac to the stars.

David Ira Cleary. The Flowers of Nicosia.

Rock and roll and SF don’t come together that much (‘In Dreams’ edited by McAuley and Newman being one anthology which springs to mind.) I’m about 15 years too old to engage with the lead characters in the rock band in this story, who take their lead from the late Kurt Cobain and Nirvana (my tastes starting with Velvet Underground/The Stooges through glamrock to Joy Division/The Fall). The band takes off to Nicosia, the town in the city divided in twain, as they try to use the medium or rock and roll to unite an increasingly distant East and West.

There’s the threat of terrorism, the risks of overdoing the sex and drugs that go with rock and roll (with the drummer struggling to manage his habit). On top of all this there is the eco-terrorism, with a fatal virus doing the rounds.

Conclusion.

Some classy stories, with the Tems and Sullivan providing humanity and SF of the top order.

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