Asimovs. December 2010. kindle | kindle

James Patrick Kelly. Plus or Minus.

A sequel to ‘Going Deep’ which appeared in the June 2009 issue of Asimovs.

Mariska Volochkova is still in her mid-teens, now working as a junior grunt on a small crew on an asteroid bucket. She’s got the shadow of her famous mother hanging over her, a lecherous older boss, and difficult relationships with her fellow teen crew. Matters come to head after an accident, the Plus or Minus of the title relating to the adjustment to the Cold Equations that have to be made, and someone is going to have to step up to the plate.

The story was a tiny bit of a struggle for me, as at 50+ I’m not that engaged in teen angst story elements – I’d be more interested in the story as seen through the adults in the story. And I have to own up to a touch of concern about reading a story including teenage sexuality elements : absolutely fine with the explicit ‘sexuality’ of Kij Johnson’s ‘Spar’, so it’s not the sexuality per se, but I wasn’t at all too sure about reading the bit where the teenage girl fantasises about a fellow crewmember getting up close and personal.

Michael Swanwick. Libertarian Russia.

Near-future in which the ‘Depopulation’ has caused a lack of resources which has meant the Russian government has had to restrict it’s control freakery to the larger population area, thus creates vast stretches of the rural country with no state control.

Taking the name of one Viktor Pelevin (wikipedia entry), a young man with a neat motorcycle that can run on grass and water, and a gun that will only work in his hand, leaves Moscow behind. With the wind in his hair, he has the freedom of the road.

He picks up a hitchhiker who is more than happy to pay her way in kind. However, her true value comes to light when the pair end up in a bar run by ex-state secret servicemen, and it turns out she has more talents than meet the eye. Young Viktor finds that the reality of a countryside free of state control is perhaps not all that he had dreamt of.

An interesting story. It could equally have been set (with some adjustments to the talents of the hitchhiker) in any period of history in the USA (or of most countries to be honest) – just provide a sufficiently rural setting, and you are in a setting that can be a long, long way from normal rules of behaviour.

There were more issues for me with the story that is usually the case with a Swanwick.

When first meeting Svetlana, in conversation, ‘Viktor’ gives a lengthy exposition about what has happened to the country, which doesn’t quite ring true. Svetlana is quite happy to describe herself as a ‘whore’, and is little more than a comic book/James Bond cutout – emotionally detached, beautiful and extremely-deadly Ice Maidenski (although emotional reaction to triple murder does come). And the story is quiet short, necessitating a quick set up and denouement, a rapid shattering of Viktor’s hopes and dreams for the future. There’s certainly dramatic tension in the final scences as ‘Viktor’ realises he is powerless and will run and leave Svetlana to her fate when given the choice – similar to watching the ‘piggy’ scene in ‘Deliverance’. But at least in ‘Deliverance’ the guys are able to regain/redeem their own dignity, without being baled out.

Charley Boorman meets John Boorman if you get my drift.

Sara Genge. Sins of the Father.
A young, exiled merman makes a heartfelt plea to his mother for understanding, but not for his own personal benefit. In doing so he relates his life among humans, and his falling in love.

You would think it a fantasy story, but there are one or two references during the story, until all is revealed in the closing paragraphs.

It’s a touching story of alienness, integration, longing, loss and sacrifice.

Gregory Norman Bossert. Freia.
The second best story about a military fighter plane with the capacity to make its own decisions in combat that I’ve read in the last week! The first was Peter Watts’ ‘Malak’ in ‘Engineering Infinity’ about which I enthused.

Bossert is a somewhat less experienced writer, and this shows when his storied is compared with ‘Malak’. The latter is just that bit more subtle, polished and well written. For example, Watts opens his stories with a couple of short quotes which clearly set the story as relating to ethics and military hardware, and leaves the rest to the reader. In contrast, Bossert info-dumps a couple of paragraphs in the middle of his story through the means of the person demonstrating the hardware to an audience – not having the confidence yet to leave it to the reader to understand the whys and wherefores of the story.

A minor concern was the immediate linking I had of the smarmy arms-salesman making a pitch for this self-determining weapon of destruction, with the opening scene in Robocop, and the need in Bossert’s story to set up this potential conflict from the outset, compared to the more subtle approach of Watts.

But having said that, Bossert’s got many years ahead of him to improve his craft, and I’m sure that this will be the case.

Ian Werkheiser. Variations.
Technology which enables the creation of new music as if created by long dead performers, enables a young man to finally come to terms with the impact music had on his childhood through his father’s obsession.

Robert Reed. Excellence.
Larry Voss is extremely successful in a number of on-line sim games, and the Lord of Abalone is his greatest creation, bringing Voss to the attention of some who would be willing to pay a high price to be able to tap into that success.

Reed taps into some modern memes, immersive online games, and a desire to gain instant wealth and celebrity with little real effort, in a wryly black story.

Ian Creasey. The Prize Beyond Gold.
Fairly leaden rumination on issues around sporting achievement in the future – records increasingly difficult to beat, the struggle to remain ‘natural’, and the lengths athletes will go to succeed.

There’s a lot of internal and external discussion, consideration of issues like ‘asymptotic curves’, and in short it feels much more like a story you would find in Analog than Asimovs.

Carol Emshwiller. Uncle E.
Lovely short story with a deft touch. A young girl is forced to take on the parenting duties of her siblings when their mother dies. Help comes from an unusual source. Can’t say more as that would spoil the story!

Tom Purdom. Warfriends.
A ‘long-awaited’ followup to an Ace Double written some 40 years ago. Jila-Jen is insistent that Nama-Nanat has given his orders and must be obeyed, so Harold the Human has to work with the Five Master Harmonizers to get the itjii and the tree people working together to best military effect


Emshwiller and Genge the pick of the bunch, but not a vintage bunch. kindle | kindle

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