Asimovs, October/November 2007

Greg Egan. Dark Integers.

A sequel to the well-received and Dozoised (13th) ‘Luminous’ from Asimovs, Sept 1995. According to my mini-summation of that volume : “Massive computing power is used to probe mathematical certainties. And if 2+2 does not equal 4, then what does that mean for the fabric of the universe? Maths was never this much fun at school”. This follows on, a decade later, as the protagonists, having used maths to poke a hole in the barrier between our universe and one in which the maths is slightly different, takeon the task of monitoring the potentially dangerous rent. And sure enough, another mathematical whizz is dangerously close to discovering it.

There’s a fair bit of complex maths and quantum science, but the story picks up nicely, with a particularly intriguing use of maths to extrapolate exactly what is on the other side, as the threat moves from being an esoteric theoretical possibility to a global scale danger. The individuals are all portrayed effectively, and it avoids being a white labcoated lab-based drama. A top quality science thriller.

Carol Emshwiller. At Sixes and Sevens.

A story you would expect to read in F&SF, as opposed to Asimovs. In a remote village a young girl fending for herself on the small family farm becomes an object of suspicion to the older woman living opposite. Perhaps she is a young witch? The woman becomes increasinly concerned, especially whe she believes that her husband may have fallen under her spell. But which witch is a witch? The older woman’s perspective becomes increasingly unreliable…

Susan Forest. Paid in Full.

Evidently a first big mag appearance, and as is oft the case a story that does show that it is from a less experienced writer. The story looks at the point at which feeling obligated to repay a debt can shift to having an advantage being taken of you, through two farmers (Willy and Freddy : why two similar and somewhat juvenile names?). They are rearing Very Big Aphids, and one of them finds by the denouement that he has very much paid an old debt in full.

Robert Reed. Night Falls.

As has been the case of late, Reed’s story is introduced with a reference to a recent ‘real life’ event that prompted the story. In this case a fireworks party, in which one young man looked slightly uncomfortable amongst others of a different background. Here Reed provides a complementary story to Isaac Asimov’s ‘Nightfall’, which follows by means of marking Asimovs Science Fiction’s 30th birthday.

Carl Frederick. Leonid Skies.

A father takes his teen son and his son’s friend on a wilderness trip : a rare thing in this near future in the story. He despairs of establishing a bond with his son, and recalls his wonderment at space and the universe when he was that age. Bemoaning all that has past in the intervening years, the trip is finally saved by a small scale sense of wonder at that which is out there.

Liz Williams. Debatable Lands.

Part-fantasy/part-horror/part-sf, although prolly a 50/40/10 relationship. A fairly standard cod-medieval setting (Kings, Castles etc) sees a young man who has the trust of the King send out to some very inhospitable swampland. There is something dark and particularly threatening in the swamplands, although it appears to originate from someone at once near by and at once very far away.

Michael Cassutt. Skull Valley.

Pat Murphy’s ‘Rachel in Love’ was one of my fave stories of the 80s, featuring a chimp uplifted by dint of having the brain pattern of a scientist’s dead daughter overlaid on hers. Fleeing persecution (both individual and societal), the story follows her escape and final acceptance in society. Here Cassutt takes a somewhat more clunky X-Filesy storyline, with secret government work on DNA resulting on Neanderthal man being recreated and let loose. There’s a fairly low-key attempt to recapture the Homos, against a background of issues relating to immigration, but the story doesn’t quite gel.

Lisa Goldstein. Dark Rooms.

For 98% of the story we explore the relationship over several decades between George Melies, the famous early cinematographer, and one Nathan Stevens, who learns at the side of the frenchman, and who subsequently finds his fame and fortune in the USA, drawing on (without crediting it) some of Melies’ techniques. There is a final reunion in Paris as the down on his luck Melies is able to use his non-cinematic magic to show Stevens the error of his ways.

The suggestion in the story that Melies, when with Stevens, has some form of magical powers, is only a small element to the story, but the final scene depends on it, and that doesn’t quite work

Chris Butler. The Turn.

An intriguing story, with an inventive, albeit unexplained piece of imagery : the crew of a ship hauling their way parallel to a jungle shore, by means of a cable on the bottom of the sea which they pull through the ship to progress. To the other side of the ship is a huge wall, and history has it that at some point the ship will reach the end of the well and come to the eponymous Turn.

And of course we join their journey just as this happens, and after a 180 degree turn during which many of the crew are evidently taken to a Better Place by a swarm of angels, the journey carries for ever on, except for the protagonist, who jumps ship and heads for the jungle.

It feels like a particulary vivid nightmare that Butler may have had, climbed out of bed in the middle of the night and dashed down in a frenetic hour, before returning to bed. After a lie-in, the story is thus presented to Butler, who has only the vaguest idea what the f it is about!

Top marks for the central idea – far better than ‘spaceman stranded on moon’ sf plotline!

Allen Steele. Down and Out on Coyote.

The first of a four part novel serialisation, set in the ‘popular’ Coyote series.

Conclusion.

Some of the Asimov’s double-issues are real wowzas. This isn’t, and whilst it isn’t a meh, only the opening Egan story really stands out for me. Butler’s story is one that will stick in the memory for a while, t’others don’t really hit the very highest of high notes.

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