Asimovs June 2015


Django Wexler. The End of the War.

A good read from an author new to me, although Wexler has published several novels.

He sets up an interesting scenario : humanity has broken into two factions, destroyed the Earth, and pretty much each other. The remnants of this conflict live in large habitats out in the solar system, and the final stages in their war see them each sending vessels out to hulks of military spaceships to claim them and to return with them to salvage them.

It’s a quite civilised affair, with protocols around it, and as a salvage hunter from each side goes to work, each builds up their capacity to control the ruined vessel in a manner similar to resource building in games like Warcraft and Spacecraft – starting small, mining resources, and building every bigger and more sophisticated machines to destroy the enemy salvage operation.

It’s a bit different to the usual military SF as it’s on a micro level, but it is enjoyable (at least I found it fun – I did play Warcraft I and Warcraft II back in the day!) as it brings together the tech side with the perspective of one of the salvagers as she goes through a couple of missions, leading to a big finale.

Henry Lien. The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society

If the military SF in the previous story in this issue wasn’t to your fancy, this one might be – as it’s at the quite the opposite end of the spectrum.

In fact, with a minor bit of editing, it could be taken out of the SF genre completely. In fact I was reminded quite strongly of E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia which I read back in the 1980s after the popular TV series. Those stories featured some English middle-class angst following the arrival in a smart community of an outsider who proceeds to upset the delicate balance of society, where ‘vying for social prestige and one-upmanship in an atmosphere of extreme cultural snobbery’ is the name of the game.

So here Lien has Mrs. Howland-Thorpe finding her status as the eminent gardener in her community has been taken by incomer Mrs. Fleming, and the story proceeds through several attempts by Mrs. Howland-Thorpe to regain said status.

21.Feb.2016 UPDATE : The story was subsequently nominated for a Nebula Award. I was largely unmoved, and would have ranked it fifth out of the six stories in this issue. Similarly, Lois Tilton in her Locus Online Review noted : “This one plods heavy-footed through the gardens of farce, trampling the foliage of wit underfoot.” Hmmm.

Ray Nayler. Mutability.

An intriguing story from Nayler, evidently an American who has spent some/a lot of time in Europe, and there’s a very European feeling to this story. I’d have guessed it a translation from a European author, ahead of it being from an American. I’d also have confidently identified it as a story from Interzone ahead of Asimovs.

It has a touch of a classic French film, in black and white, set primarily in a cafe, music in the background, some shared glances. Nothing much is explained – it’s (presumably) in the 2300s, and the people in the city are living good lives, but there’s something missing. It’s memory that’s missing, but not in a stressed, angry Alzheimer’s way, but more matter of fact, a gallic shrug of the shoulders, a raised eyebrow as the coffee is sipped.

An old photograph appears, showing a man and a woman who believe themselves to be strangers to have had a past, long ago. And long forgotten…. But there’s no real resolution, the cafe keeps serving it’s customers, and the chess board remains in use…

Indrapramit Das. The Muses of Shuyedan-18

A great story from Das that does what I like an SF story to do – look at the future of humanity, explore the alien, and learn something about humans on a micro level or humanity on a macro level.

Das does this in spades, uses his background in Kalkota, India, to good effect, starting his story from a non-Western worldview, which is in itself a treat. He starts his story with the ‘birth’ of a very alien alien (no other than green skin/fur otherwise human-norm aliens) on a very alien landscape. The creature is named Shuyedan by two humans who witness it’s creation, an indigenous life form of which little is known. And the creature witnesses them in the act of love-making, and this ends up reflected in it’s own presentation.

The couple are both women, and the same-sex relationship gives another different element, and the relationship between the two is not a straightforward one. So there’s a lot in the story to like, and I’m putting it onto the short list for The Best SF Short Story Award 2015.

M. Bennardo. Ghosts of the Savannah.

A prehistory story from Bennardo (so why is it in an SF magazine I wonder??).

Young Sedu is part of a hunting tribe, and she yearns to be out on the savannah hunting with the men, but that is not the role for women, no matter how good they are at hunting.

I couldn’t get engaged with the story at all, as the narrative from her brother failed to convince – there was no attempt to create a language in keeping with a pre-historic tribe – to the extent that I was waiting for the ‘reveal’ that we weren’t in pre-history at all, but in a post-something scenario where we have returned to a more primitive way of living. The worst example of this was the brother returning to his sister, who has broken a limb, referring to the bones ‘knitting together’ when healing, which is terminology w-a-y beyond the pre-historic.

Sarah Pinsker. Our Lady of the Open Road.

A near-future rock and roll road story, with a band ekeing out a living playing live, in the face of immersive 3D holo performances by the Big Name Bands keeping the potential audience members home for the most part.

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