Asimovs. June 2010.

Pterodactyls roosting on an enormous human structure, with a Jack Vettriano couple dancing nearby. Hmm… but enough about the cover, what about the fiction?

Allen M. Steele. The Emperor of Mars.
Steele revisits a theme from a previous story of his, although with an sfnal rather than a fantasy element. Worryingly, ‘The Days Between’ was in Asimovs in March 2001 – very, very close to ten years ago, and it doesn’t seem that long to me! In that earlier story, the second in his Coyote series, an unfortunate crewmember is awoken from cryogenic suspension, and is forced to live out the rest of his mortal days alone. He suffers from alcoholism and then ‘insanity’ and writes copious stories about one Prince Rupurt, and paints the ships walls to illustrate this stories. Here, on Mars, a young worker on the colony hears that his entire family has been wiped out in an auto accident back on Earth, and he too falls into a makebelieve world. In his case it is Barsoom, as he consumes all the SF literature of bygone times which postulated a green Mars. It’s on OK story, but in a blind taste testing I’d have it down as an Analog story rather than an Asimovs.

Kit Reed. Monkey Do.
A struggling author finds his muse, after a fashion. The characterisation of the author, and the descriptions of his internal thought processes, are a treat, and his way of dealing with the literary success of his room-mate lifts the story to a higher level.

Benjamin Crowell. Petopia.
A cuddly toy with an AI chip finds itself a long way from home, and rather than being a pet for a rich Western child, it offers a young girl ekeing out a living in a far less affluent community a chance to improve her life chances – at the expense of those affluent westerners.

Chris Beckett. The Peacock Cloak.
One of several ‘clones’ of the creator of a virtual universe, sent forth into it by him, is finally reunited with his self/creator/father. Of his siblings, the wearer of the Peacock Cloak has used that aspect of the creator unique to him to urge the universe onto greater things, eschewing a bucolic pastoral idyll, uncaring of the horrors wreaked in the the name of development. The pair meet by a lake, the creator urging a reconciliation. Can we be truly guilty, when we are made in the image of the creator? Are not our deeds simply a facet of him, and ergo his doing?

Anna Tambour. Dreadnought Neptune.
A father seizes a sudden opportunity to reach for the stars with his son. It’s a chance to leave behind the mundane (and the wife/mother), and the are amongst a large number of others who cram into a vessel that could take them out to the stars. However, the dream remains out of reach, and the distance between the father and son is not closed.

Stephen Baxter. Earth III.
In Asimovs in July 2009 Baxter provided us with Earth II (review) which followed on from the Flood/Ark novels. Here he takes the story another step forward, in his own inimitable style, with characters from previous stories being figures of mythology. But it feels a bit of a rehash of the earlier story, with another long trek being detailed, enabling the flora and fauna of the new Earth to be described. The early part of the story infodumps by having characters discussing the nature of their beliefs, and the backstory, which is rather too obviously. Ideally Baxter would have made this, and the previous story, full length novels, but clearly the guy has only one set of hands and is keen to get the ideas down on paper, even if needs must they must be at a compressed length. And, personally, ideally I’d have re-read Earth II before reading this, but that wasn’t going to happen. Perhaps, editorially, stories like this should be treated as a serial, and a half page given over to a quick recap of the previous story for those either unable/unwilling to reread the earlier story, or whose grey matter isn’t up to remembering the details of the earlier story.

Conclusion
A bit of a deja vu feeling with the opening and closing stories, with two experienced writers re-treading footprints into the sfnal regolith, with the other stories being good without being great.

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