Here are the story reviews for this issue of Asimovs, as they appeared over the past couple of weeks.
William Preston. Helping Them Take The Old Man Down.
A classy story from Preston, as is clear from the opening line ‘When I married, late and surprised, I hadn’t heard from the old man for two years’. The ‘late and surprised’ is such a subtle touch, and sets up the reader nicely. The ‘old man’ we find out is an almost fabled figure, a character who has stood up for good, against evil, for decades. The name by which the ‘old man’ is known for his exploits, is not given. There aren’t superhero powers through which the man operates, so you can rule out the caped hero type. I did wonder about it being a reference to Captain America, but I reckon not, and my knowledge of 1930s US comic book figures is somewhat limited.
Whilst having virtually superhuman strengths and abilities, ‘the old man’ operates through a network of associates whom he recruits, and from whom he was given this epithet. The narrator is reflecting on his relationship with the old man, and of the adventures he has undertaken as part of that role. But he is doing that in retrospect. Surely the old man must by now be dead? But newer security forces, in the post 9/11 world, believe that he may well be still alive, as the offices he leased in one of the twin towers were vacated a month before that date.
And in addition to the suggestion that he may have known of the imminent attack, there is then raised the question over his lack of response to the needs of the 6m who went through the death camps.
So, in this new, changed world, a much, much more complicated world, where do loyalties lie? Should the old ways be protect and accepted for being a function of past times? Or do the new requirements, and the resultant (in)sensibilities require that even the most heroic of heroes are required to stand up and be counted, even deep into retirement?
Benjamin Crowell. Centaurs.
A young girl gets a bit angsty in advance of a date with a boy she has only met online. It’s set in space, and there’s a bit of drama, but she gets home ok. And, erm, that’s really about it, in a fairly routine story.
Alexander Jablokov. Blind Cat Dance.
In the editorial introduction, Jablokov explains his relative absence from short fiction in the last decade due to family and career calling on his times. tsk tsk. Priorities, Mr. Jablokov, Priorities.
Here he provides an unsettling view of the near future, where humanity has tweaked the perceptions of animals to ‘enable’ them to living in urban settings, but with all apsects of that urban life removed from their perception, leaving them believing themselves to be living in the wild. We follow one cougar as it cagily explores territory marked out by another male, all this done in blissful ignorance of the landscape it is inhabiting is one of cafes and humans engaged in leisure activites.
And there is another, largely unnoticed, male ritual going on, as one male, observing a quartet of other people, is trying to put himself into a position to be the putative mate of one of the females, who is currently partnered with his employer.
The most unsettling element of the story is the view of the work of the observer, in one of his roles of looking after a pig farm – except that the pigs themselves have been horribly genetically tweaked to be little more than nonsentient pork factories.
The closing scenes, set in a now abandoned urban landscape, with nature gradually returning, rounds off an unsettling view of how it is possible to be blind to what is happening around us.
Derek Zumsteg. Ticket Inspector Gliden Becomes the First Martyr of the Glorious Human Uprising.
Short wry piece in which aliens now controlling Earth have the misfortune to come up against the ticketing regime for public transport – in Germany of all places. Surely, they argue, it should be possible to have a single, simple sytems for buying tickets? If an error has been made, surely the system should be flexible enough to exercise judgment and compassion?
Will Ludwigsen. The Speed of Dreams.
Written in the form of a 8th Grade Science paper, we follow one teenage girl’s thought processes following on from the idea that events in dreams happen at an accelerated rate. Her science experiment times the dreams of their retired racing greyhound in which he races, and armed with the logical conclusions from this, and observatin of her comatase grandmother, leads the story to a surprising conclusion. Excellent.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The Tower.
A bit of a disappointment. The sfnal cover, sort of suggesting that it was linked to the Rusch story and ergo that story was spacebound SF, was not the case. It’s a time travel story, in which a small team head back to the Tower of London in 1641 in order to investigate the mystery of the murder of the two princes by Richard III. Their team is however, infiltrated by someone who has an altogether different plan – the
theft of some of the Crown Jewels. Rather unbelievably, the historian who is leading the team does not suspect anything when he joins the team at the last minute, going by the name of an infamous historical figure who stole the Crown Jewels.
The team head back courtesy of their little handheld time travel devices, land with a bump as the ground is lower than they expected, and then quickly have to stop the jewel thief from his nefarious plans, and get back home, the Two Princes job compromised.
It’s fine as far as it goes, but doesn’t really go anywhere not gone many, many times before. The only real element of the story that grabbed me was the physical shock the time travellers faced when they land back in the odorous bygone times. Other than that, the story could equally, or perhaps, better have been placed in a historical or a crime fiction magazine.
I started this issue expecting Rusch and Jablokov to supply the stronger stories, but in fact it is Zumsteg and Ludwigsten who tickled my fancy the most. Who’da thunk it?