Asimovs, February 2008

Michael Swanwick. From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled…

The opening paragraph is a doozy – it describes the titular city on Europa, and does so quite beautifully across several sentences, and then kicks into a higher gear as the narrator describes herself : a simulation of one of the humans killed in the destruction of the city, and then the story starts with a “Here’s what it was like…”

It’s an opening that you could use over the first month of a Science Fiction Writing 101 course, and the rest of the story lives up to that standard. The narrator, Rosamund, is embedded in the hi-tech suit of one of the survivors of the meteorite strike – Carlos, her lover. She has to care for him using the suit’s advanced medical capabilities to get him to the point of being in a state to be brought back to consciousness, and we follow them as she guides him, and one of the strange, definitely non-human race on the planet. In order to escape the armed warriors of his race, Uncle Vanya has to undergo the unkindest cut of all – “The first thing we have to do is castrate you..” is the kind of line you can only come up with after some years in the business. Swanwick takes the unlikely trio through an alien world, effectively getting across the alieness of Uncle Vanya through his speech patterns, and cleverly intertwining the action with backstory.

And the ending is just terrific – with Rosamund left embedded in the spacesuit, hanging up in a locker. It’s a story that is simply top class.

Nancy Kress. Sex and Violence.

A similar clever story, although only two pages in length. The mystery of evolution is being discussed at college. Just how did the first self-replicating organism establish itself from the primordial soup, and what role did panspermia play? It is a complex mystery, and forces beyond our ken realise that they have played an accidental role in the process, but are intrigued at the local processes involved in the evolution of the species. And back on Earth teenspermia continues to take the species forward.

James Alan Gardner. The Ray-Gun : a love story.

Another clever and classy story. The central character is an alien weapon, which finds its way to Earth, and into the hands of a young nerdy guy. We follow him as the forces now at his power guide his development, through first love, through to increasingly obsessive behaviour. However, the weapon has more than simply brute force, and the understates unsettling nature of that very alien power finds a way to protect itself, that sees humanity once again as a small player in a big game.

Mary Rosenblum. The Egg Man.

The standard continues with Rosenblum’s near future story set on the US-Mexico border, with global warming and biotech affecting people’s lives, and a reversal of the power relationship between the two countries. Zipakna revisits a remote pharming community, and is disturbed to find that they are growing sunflowers with an added ingredient that is going to get them into trouble – either from the authorities, or from others equally as badass, although not as legal. There’s also the question of his ex-wife, who headed out to the remote area several years ago, and when he comes across a young boy who looks just like her, he realises that despite the huge risks to himself, he can not simply turn his back on the farm, and stands up when it is time to be counted.

Edward M. Lerner. Inside the Box.

Lerner is an Analog regular, and this four-page is of the type regularly featured in Asimov’s sister mag : a professor is giving a lecture on quantum physics, bringing in Schrodinger’s Cat, and the Grandfather Paradox, and as the lecture processes, the exact nature of what might be happening to illustrate the paradoxes variously reveal themselves. Or not.

John Kessel. The Last American.

Being an interactive biography of one Andrew Steele, who rises to become the President of what was once called The United States of America. Kessel brings several perspectives on the lifes and times of a man who is driven and who is willing to make big decisions that cost a lot of lives, in order to achieve his aims. There are some clever touches in the story, such as American Airlines Flight 11 including amongst the trrists, one unshaven, baseball-cap wearing guy called Moore. Hey, it’s going to get much worse before it gets much better/different.

Allen Steele. Galaxy Blues (part 4 of 4).

Final installment of Bonanza in Space.


A fine issue.

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