Asimovs. February 2015.


Michael Bishop. Rattlesnakes and Men.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read anything by Michael Bishop, and was quite looking forward to it, having seen his name on the cover.

Truth be told, I was a little disappointed, as the story has a minimal sfnal element, and the story itself didn’t really grab me. It’s set in rural Georgia, in a small community where the norm is to have gene-tweaked rattlesnakes living in the house, coded to your DNA and there to repel intruders. This sets the scene for looking in detail at the folks in the community, their attitudes, and to set up some drama.

OK the rattlesnakes can be seen as a metaphor for guns, but do we really need a metaphor to highlight the stupidity of gun ownership in the US? Well, maybe it is needed for some in the US – outside of the US, I think not as we can see it, and are repeatedly reminded of it.

Derek Kunsken. Ghost Colors.

A story about letting go of the past, and it letting go of you.

Brian is in a new relationship. He likes being grounded through contact with his past, and so has a lot of boxes of belongings from his life with his ex-wife in his flat. However, also in his flat is his new partner, who is quite different – if she hasn’t used something in a year, it’s out for refuse. And added to this equation is Pablo, the ghost of a scientist who Brian has ‘inherited’ following the death of his aunt, whom the scientist adored.

It’s only a half dozen pages long, but feels longer, as Kunsken gets into Brian’s head, and we go back many years to see how his relationship with his aunt changed over the years.

An interesting read, particularly in this age when geneological databases, family history research, and even Facebook can keep you closely attached to the past in a way that wasn’t the case pre-Internet.

Elizabeth Bear. No Decent Patrimony.

A short look at a future in which a super-rich elite have longevity/immortality, leaving others on Earth to manage the economic and social consequences, and climate change. We see this through the eyes of a young man whose father, one of this elite, has been killed in an automobile accident – or was it an accident?

We follow the ethical issues, and see climate change consequences at first hand, as he is interviewed by a tenacious young reporter, and through his eyes look at the decision he has to make when he finds the truth about this father’s death (and his own origins) are revealed.

But the reveals aren’t big surprises, and the story lacks that little something.

Eneasz Brodski. Red Legacy.

A first published story from Brodski, and a good one at that.

He takes us back to the Cold War (or probably The First Cold War as it will shortly be known), but some ultra top secret experimentation going on under the Urals by the Russians. The only minor mis-step for me is that two of the Russian bit parts characters are named Ivan and Boris, a bit stereotypical, but the main character, Marya Kovanich, is a woman, struggling with the break up of her same-sex relationship, and moreso with the offspring of that relationship, as Marya tries repeatedly to resolve the issue that is causing the multiply cloned daughter from dying.

There’s drama as the scientific complex comes under attack from first the British, then the Americans, and Brodski neatly looks at the attitudes of those countries, and at Russia’s to the nature of the elite, to ideological commitments to different evolutionary theories, and how this will affect their countries. (And in the case of the 007-like British spy, his use of the big red ‘Self Destruct’ button).

Brodski packs some detail and some depth of the type you rarely see in a first published story, which bodes weill for the future. To be honest if I’d read this, and Michael Bishop’s Rattlesnakes and Men without knowing which was written by which writer, I’d have guessed this was the Bishop story, and the other was the novice writer’s story.

Leah Cypess. Forgiveness.

A story about which I have reservations.

As a story, entitled ‘Forgiveness’ it’s about a teen at school whose boyfriend has anger management issues, and this has led him to hurting her in a fit of temper. The sfnal element is that to avoid a prison term there’s a chip implanted in his brain that modifies his behaviour, making it impossible for him to do harm (a la Alex in Clockwork Orange). The depth to the story comes in Anna’s wanting to offer forgiveness in the face of hostility from school friends and parents. And the drama comes through the chip evidently not working – does she tell the authorities.

The problem I have with the story is that is doesn’t go deeper into the nature of intimate partner violence – it’s not just a case of losing your temper and striking out. It’s invariably about controlling behaviour, emotional abuse, about power etc etc. This comes across a little in the story, as her jealous boyfriend calls her a slut for talking to another boy, but in the end the story is about whether the chip will work or not and allow her to forgive him and for them to stay together.

We hear about her therapy, and the extra therapy which is required of her, to which she objects, when in reality the girl really does need as much help as the boyfriend in terms of what is going on in her head, and what is drawing her into a relationship where there is a cycle of violence/making up. Props to Cypess for taking on the topic, but it does oversimplify a very complex issue.

Nick Wolven. On the Night of the Robo-Bulls and Zombie Dancers.

Wolven looks into a near future where there is a pharma solution to the ‘problem’ of needing sleep, making everywhere a 24/7 operation, including the workplace, where many in employment are now working both day and night shifts.

We see this through the eyes of Gabriel, a market trader in Manhattan, who is desperate for a bit of down-time with his wife beyond the mere 4 hours he had off each day. The story revolves around a journey he is forced to undertake into downtown Manhattan, and it’s a journey through Dante’s circles of hell, in a city with privatised policing in a world that makes Sodom and Gomorrah look staid. His task : to get to understand just what the AIs who control the markets are playing at.

There’s a recurring theme of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth has murdered sleep’, and it’s a dark dystopian future but with some lighter, nicely sardonic touches thrown in.

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