Asimovs, February 2009

Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling. Colliding Branes.

Gonzo fun, as you might expect from Rucker and Sterling. Two bloggers, with an inside track on the end of the world (and the universe), two dense urban bores, take to the road to flee the dense urban cores. Two of the branes of our universe are passing through each other, which will destroy everything. They are concerned with their blog rankings, and whether to get off with each other with only one night left, although a dark ops Area 52 in the Nevada Desert could potentially provide a refuge.

Out in the desert, as the planet gradually, and graceful begins its passing, the two are indeed offered a way to survive, as they have been steered by a Cosmic Mother, who gives them the opporutnity to comment and moderate on the next plane.

Carol Emshwiller. The Bird Painter in Time of War.

A heartfelt look at the futility of war, the death meted out to each other by close neighbours with a lot in common. Even in such a barren environment, love can find its way, a human connection being made over a shared love of art, with little need for words.

Lovely mainstream story, with only a the fantastical ending to mark it out as genre fiction.

Matthew Johnson. The Coldest War.

A touch of the shivering horrors, as a Canadian in a very isolated, very bleak, and very, very cold island finds himself up against the elements, and his own inner demons, and just perhaps, an enemy threat.

Colin P. Davies. The Certainty Principle.

There are a number of stories in which issues around human cloning have been subtly explored.

Davies provides a somewhat more straighforward affair in which the protagonist is given cause to review whether the cold equation he considered on Mars failed to give due weight to the part of the equation that related to the clones. He was happy to leave them to die so that the ‘humans’ could survive, seeing them as being little more than a piece of equipment. The closing denouement that his ex-lover is also a clone doesn’t really work, as the fact that a clone is indistinguishable from a non-clone would make them so clearly not comparable to equipment as to render the decision which he made and on which the story hinges, as being simply too unrealistic.

Steven Utley. Point.

Two scientists try to resolve their academic arguments by dint of some immersive role playing.

Judith Berman. Pelago.

‘The Fear Gun’ in Asimovs July 2004 was a standout, as I noted at the time ‘I got increasingly frustrated as this story progressed and the number of unread pages left to the end of the book began to diminish’. And the same can be said of this story, which is in fact part of a novel in progress.

As with the earlier story, ‘Pelago’ is notable for getting right to the heart of some strong human emotions, but has the added bonus of being set in deep space. The settings are up there with the likes of Alastair Reynolds, with Berman handling the tech and also the mechanics of living in space with equal ease.

Ari, the female protagonist, has got close to her enemy – some very, very hard bastards who killed her family. Revenge is driving her.

There’s depth of character to go with depth of setting, and even the bastards she wishes to kill are more than cardboard cutouts. Expect this in one or more of the year’s best collections.

Conclusion.

The volume is bookended by two top quality stories, with the filling just a little less substantial in contrast.

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