Asimov’s January 2010.

The first issue of a magazine reviewed under the new regime – with reviews of individual stories having been previously posted.

Geoffrey A. Landis. Marya and the Pirate.
Drama and intrigue in Earth orbit. Domingo Bonaventura is executing a very risky act of piracy – using a thin sheet of glass to evade detection and sneak up on a cargo tug taking a huge chunk of comet ice towards Earth. He’s gone to considerable lengths to carry out this act, and appears to have little concern for the crewmember whose tug he opens to the vacuum of space. However, all is not as it seems. The one man crew on the tug is a woman, a young woman at that, and in fact Domingo was planning to utilise his not insubstantial expertise in saving families and friends from vacuum to ensure that he did not murder the crew member.

The pirate and his hostage spend some time in the close confines of the tug as they approach Earth orbit, during which time we find out more about Bonaventure and the risks he and his kind have
been taking in trying to eke out a living in space, and the costs that have to be paid – and through which he becomes a more complex character.

His plan is to slingshot the captured cargo into deep space, to be of use to his community, but an unforseen technical problem nixes this, and suddenly we are into a life and death struggle to avoid burning up in space. The sudden threat to their imminent demise throws the couple together, but after the coupling, they work together to effect the technical solution to their problems.

And in a neat touch, as the two separate, we find out even more about Marya, and the struggles she faces to earn a living, and the risks she is taking.

It’s a neat story, rising above a simple ‘what is the technical solution to get out of the problem they face’ (that is often set out in the opening paragraphs of many stories), putting two characters in close proximity,and provding a reasonable depth of background, after which the reader is more engaged with the drama and its resolution.

Felicity Shoulders. Conditional Love.
Shoulders’ first story, Burgerdroid, appeared in Asimovs in June 2008, and this second story shows evidence of improvement. As with the first story, she has a female protagonist, Dr. Grace Steller, who works at the Gene-Engineered Pediatric In-Patient Center. There’s a lot of work coming their way, due to the popularity with would-be parents of in-utero genetic modification for their children.

Some children, such as Minerva, have long-standing abnormalities, due to the genmod they underwent. This teen was born limbless, but has spent her entire childhood in an out of hospital having treatment to slowly grow back her limbs. With both arms complete, Minerva is now desperate to finish with the hospital, and is happy to stay without legs, just so that she can start a normal life not revolving around hospital treatment.

Minerva’s desires are contrasted with a young John Doe, a boy who highlights another problem – parents who find that in fact the child of their (designed) dreams is not meeting their expectations, and who have no compunctions in throwing them onto the street. This boy, however, has a further disturbing issue – he instantly imprints on any adult that he meets, but subsequently forgets them once they are out of his site. Is this an unintended consequence of his genetic tampering? Or is there a darker angle to it, as having a child with no memory of people once they have left his presence could be attractive to some people…

Grace has to come to terms with her work in the hospital, Minerva’s desires, and what life is likely to offer the young boy in her charge. She decides on taking drastic action – if thine eye offends thee….

For a new writer, it’s a well-handled story. The main characters are portrayed well, and perhaps only a slight issue with the dramatic resolution – although in the limited space, perhaps little option for the author. I’ll look forward to more stories from Shoulders.

Chris Roberson. Wonder House.
The story introduction refers to an inspiration for this story being ‘Men of Tomorrow’, a non-fiction book by Gerard Jones which looked at how Eastern European Jewish immigrants were responsible for the birth of American comic books. SF Site’s review of that book [here], refers to the inspirate that Jones must have drawn from Michael Chabon’s novel on that theme – ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay’.

Roberson clearly pondered how such an event would happen in his ‘Celestial Empire’ alternate history, and in a light and entertaining piece has his Jewish editors mulling over just how their genre titles can move with the times, coming up with ever bizarre options for stories, characters and magazine titles, before finally stumbling upon the comic strip idea.

Robert Reed. The Good Hand.
Clever reflection on the current issues with the Iranian nuclear bomb-building programme.

Reed postulates a world in which the USA keeps a very firm stranglehold on its nuclear bomb technology after the end of the second world war, willing to take the ultimate step in ensuring that no other nation get their own nuclear capability.

A businessman is heading over to France to conclude some business, and there is a huge tension with the French people he meets, for whom the Americans are beyond the pale. Whilst the Americans believe that their global dominance is a price worth paying for peace, other countries have different views. The subtle differences back in the States is shown through clever reference to Hollywood.

The tension rises when the Americans show that they are still willing to take drastic action to retain the status quo, and the businessmen finds himself threatened with being part of a human shield put in place to protect the just-discovered French space programme.

Reed, as ever, gets the characterisation and detail right, and doesn’t make the mistake of making the jet-lagged businessman embracing those who he has been previously at odds with.

Carol Emshwiller. Wilds.
A man flees to the wilds, scrabbling up a remote mountain, finding freedom in his solitude, and in his simple life revolving around little more than eating what nature provides. A young woman stumbles across his hidey-hole, carrying cash she has misappropriated. What use can he have for her, and her money? He provides her with a little help, although losing most of her money. He doesn’t feel this loss, and as he embraces the wilds even further, her accidental death does not faze him, as he has become as one with the land, a creature who drinks, eats, and sleeps and has no need for anything else, a creature of facele, the green man who helps those who visit his lands.

Allen M. Steele. The Jekyll Island Horror.
Steele establishes a conceit that whilst holidaying in Florida he received a MS describing an incident some decades past. During the Depression, those with money holidayed on Jekyll Island, and the writer of the MS, a gentleman’s gentleman, recounts how what appared to be a meteorite that thundered over their heads one night, turned out to be a far, far stranger thing.

A large creature is semi-buried in the sand, something clearly not of this world, and evidently not entirely biological. As to its origins, we never find out. As to its intentions – the ingestion of those who stumble across it.

The storytelling is handled well in the mannered style of the 1930s.

Conclusion.

A strong issue.

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