Asimovs. October/November 2010.


Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Becoming One With The Ghosts.

Ruch’s ‘Diving’ stories have been highlights in Asimovs in recent years, and her novel ‘Diving into the Wreck’ has garnered praise.

This entry into the ‘Diving’ canon is a doozy .. a suspenseful story of a large spaceship returning to base, and finding that the base is quite different to normal. The evidence begins to mount that much more time has passed than should have, and as this is revealed to the crew, the exact nature of those from the base who are investigating them becomes apparent, and backstory, explanation and much more comes tolight.

Kij Johnson. Names for Water.

Another effective short from Johnson, somewhat less challenging than her ‘Spar’!

A young girl is on her way to her engineering class at university when her cell phone rings. She’s grateful for the interruption as she’s struggling with the class as indeed thinking of changing her major. There’s no-one at the other end of the connection – just static, or perhaps the sound of water.

She pauses, wondering where that sound could be coming from. Beach? Lake? Her minders wanders, becoming more fanciful as to the location of the water, in out countries, in other continents. The story gently takes off as her fancies become wilder, looking much farther afield, to distant planets, and then we get a glimpse of just where this student is heading in terms of her career, and just where her research is going to lead other people, centuries down the line.

A delicate touch.

Mike Resnick. The Incarceration of Captain Nebula.

Captain Nebula is being held on Earth by humans who are at best unwitting dupes of, or at worst, active agents of the evil galactic overlord Drago.

Or at least, he believes he is. Dr. Weaver, the psychiatrist under whose care and control he is under, is frustrated at being unable to find a chink in this delusional behaviour, as the man calling himself Captain Nebula has an answer for everything.

Wryly humourous, with Resnick opting to provide the answer at the end, rather than the Algis Budry’s approach in ‘Who?’, which leaves the reader to decide.

Tanith Lee. Torhec the Sculptor.

A fairly routine story, below par from an author such as Lee.

A fantastically rich collector of objects d’art is desperate to obtain a piece from a famous sculptor. Problem is, the sculptor is famed for publicly destorying his sculptures immediately after their showing to the public. At first the sculpture refuses to sell a sculpture, but then agrees, when the collector suggests that the piece will be delivered to him in a sealed compartment, and nobody will be able to see it.

Finally, after many years, the collector breaks his vow, and takes a peek…

The sfnal element is simply that it is set in the future, although there’s no reason for it to be set in the future (other than the hi-tech security on the safe containing the sculpture).

Don D’Ammassa. No Distance Too Great.
An interesting and affecting look at bereavement, through the lens of hyperspace.

D’Ammassa posits a hyperspace that is crossed not in an instant, but over a period of hours, with the spaceship rolling along a terrain that is ever-changing, and partly influenced by the emotional state of the passengers.

The protagonist is a widower, hiding the depth of his emotional sufering quite well to his fellow passengers, and crew, but not to hyperspace itself, which reacts to his emotional state and threatens a successful transition.

The loss felt by the widower is effectively portrayed, and the ending just about manages to avoid being too schmalty.

Felicity Shoulders. The Termite Queen of Tallulah County.

A story which starts well, exploring the relationship between grandfather and founder of a termite eradication company, his son, and his son’s adult daughter under stress due to the son’s ill health.

But the story hinges on the reader being willing to accept that time travel has been licensed to termite control companies so that they can go back in time and treat infestations before they become too problematic. Too much of a stretch for me, to be honest. The daughter goes back in time and finds out that her father’s ill health is caused by him having used the kit too often, and having created problems in the past for his future self to earn money fixing.

Having gone back in time to tell her father of this folly, she returns to her own time to find that her father’s health has been restored.

R. Neube. Dummy Tricks.

Homer J. Simpson is mentioned in the editor’s intro to the story by way of setting the scene for a drama on the planet of New Tahiti featuring an intellectually challenged protagonist. Hal Koenigson is suffering from a Parkinsons-type set of conditions due to drug misuse and other activities in his youth.

The silver lining to this cloud is that he is thus impervious to climactic conditions on the planet which drive everyone else away from the breeding grounds of a rare plant, enabling him to have almost free access to the plant and to bring in money to his family – who treat him pretty shabbily.

His only competition are ‘pirates’ who risk the howling alien plains, and he has no compunction at taking their lives for their transgressions. He in unsympathetic when a family, including children, infringe on his family’s property.

It’s a fairly bleak tale on a bleak planet, looking at his life, and the price paid by the family to try and eke out any kind of living on the unforgiving planet. A couple of stylistic issues don’t help the story either – ‘blind for the nonce’ instead of ‘temporarily blinded’, and the archaic ’twas instead of ‘It was’, with a very Analog-y feeling to it.

Will McIntosh. Frankenstein, Frankenstein.

A travelling carnival wagon proudly proclaiming it contains Frankenstein’s monster manages to convince most of its audience when it pitches up in the small towns it visits. Having a tall, scarred man with a foot long iron spike protruding from the top and bottom of his head is a pretty convincing creature.

Having miraculously survived a mining accident in which a premature explosion embedded said spike into his head, to little effect, Phineas Gage finds life on the road passably tolerable. Even when dealing with afficionados of the fictional doctor, one of whom to whom he provides, for a small fee, his memories of when Victor Frankenstein created him.

Things get complex when a competitor turns up, an even more hulking specimen, doing the fairground circuit. But, businessmen being businessmen, they turn their meeting up to good effect, charging to witness them fighting each other.

The tone of the story darkens when they arrive at the World’s Fair in Chicago, when they find that the afficionado of Victor Frankenstein has used Tesla’s new invention to create a creature made from parts of several dead people. However, the creature, rather than being a fearsome monster, is a pitiable, mewling things in terrible pain.

The second best story featuring a Tesla-powered Frankenstein monster at Chicago Worl Fair that I have read in the past couple of months. (The first : here.)

Kate Wilhelm. Changing the World.

A cautionary tale from Wilhelm.

A recently retired professional decides to test out just how gullible the conspiracy-theorists are, and with the aid of an external hard drive (there’s a bit too much about external hard drives than strictly necessary) decides to create and publicise his own ‘out there’ theory.

He finds that he is more successful than he could have dreamt. Or had a nightmare about.


Ferrett Steinmetz. Under the Thumb of the Brain Patrol.
 
 Near future in which the high school tables are truly turned – the nerdy science geeks are masters of creation, and the jocks are under their thrall and desperate to avoid their bullying.

With a flat-stomached, blonde cheerleader his only support, the protagonist jock lusts after the fleshy, pasty skin of one of the top brains in the high school. He believes that she may have taken an interest in him, but whilst she has in fact done so, it is for altogether nerdier, but still dangerous design.

Trapped in a D&D world of her design, he must rescue the fair maiden.

Rick Wilber. Several Items of Interest.

A fourth story in the ‘S’hudonni’ sequence – the first dating back to 1988!

The S’hudonni, a far more advance race, have brought peace, prosperity and health to Earth. The story reflects on their impact on humanity through constrasting the family politics of one group of S’hudonni, and two human brothers. The protagonist, Peter, is on their home planet, spending two years on a contract to provide video blogs back to Earth. He relates in flashback how he and his brother were impacted by the aliens arrival on Earth, how their relationship suffered. But things have come to a head and his brother is now playing an active role in the resistance back on Earth.

The narrative style and the flashbacks support the story to good effect, with Peter somewhat at one remove from the denouement as the instances of himself sent back to Earth to meet up with Tommy repeatedly die, leaving his original self still on the S’hudonni planet unaware that the trip to Earth has taken place and failed.

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