Alan Smale. The Mongolian Book of the Dead.
A Chinese invasion of Mongolia leads to an epic journey for an itinerant American travel. Both across the Gobi in geographical terms, and far further in spiritual and personal terms. The story has a great sense of place, although it did drag a bit for me,as repeated daytime journeys across the barren desert and night-time communion with Mongolian spirituality had a draining affect on me (although not as much as on the protagonist).
Jay Lake. The Stars Do Not Lie.
A story that is nominated for both a Hugo and a Nebula, and it’s currently online on the Asimovs site, so I would suggest you read the PDF.
Lake frequently covers religion and faith in his excellent blog in which he identifies himself as a “low church atheist” (‘not of that mindset that seeks to deconvert others or discredit religion’), in which I (for the record) identified myself as a ‘high church atheist’ (‘advocates strongly against religion in all its forms’).
That said, let’s get on talking about Lake’s story. It’s the second time in two years that an SF story majoring on religion and faith has been doubly nominated, with Eric James Stone’s ‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’ winning the Nebula. That Analog story left me unmoved when I initially read it (review here), and bemused when I re-read it as a Nebula winner, on account of it’s being some way short of what I believe you would need in terms of literary merit and storytelling to win that award.
Anyhoo, Lake’s story is some way stronger than Stone’s. Lake’s story has a veneer of steampunk about it, a Victorian setting with electricks making some changes to society. He places some intriguing characters in each camp – the opening sentence introducing “Morgan Abutti; B.Sc. Bio.; M.Sc.Arch.; Ph.D.Astr.& Nat, Sci.; 4th degree Thalassocrete;Member, Planetary Society; and Association Fellow of the New Garaden Institute…..”
Abutti has found something in the stars that entirely debunks the creation myth in his society, and somewhat naively, his plan to reveal all in front of his scientific colleagues leads him into big trouble. The story progresses through multiple perspectives of the protagonists (perhaps a slight failing in the story, as it crams a lot into a little space).
There’s more than a touch of Paul Di Filippo about the story (a good thing), with descriptions and settings similar to the excellent Linear City stories by PDF. There’s a dramatic ending – perhaps too dramatic if you were to quibble to the nth degree, as things happen very quickly. It’s a story that you’d want to see Lake being able to turn into a full length novel. We’d very, very much like to see Lake being able to turn it into a full length novel…
Gray Rinehart. The Second Engineer.
“On a treacherous interstellar journey where not everything is as it appears, a young crewmember will have to rely on her own resourcefulness if she is to survive her stint as … The Second Engineer”. The story introduction sums it up succinctly, and the story doesn’t quite make the step up from relatively routine adventure on a spaceship, and a female lead who gets knocked out as regularly as Frodo in LoTR.
Will Ludwigsen. The Ghost Factory.
Well handled story, about a now-empty ex-mental institution – empty save for the ghosts, the echoes of who lived there. Ludwigsen’s narrator is a believable, flawed character, reflecting on his time as a staff member there, his motivations, and his relationship with one inmate, and the reader really engages with him.
Paul McAuley. Antartica Starts Here.
Near-future post-icecap-melt story, that looks at some of the risks to the previously inaccessible wilderness of the Antartic. Telepresence is opening up the region to tourists, and somebody has to take action to prevent the despoiling of the continent. The narrator is one-removed from this action, with the really interesting characters being those who do take action, but for the reader this is indirectly relayed via the narrator/observer.
Kit Reed. Results Guaranteed.
The teen years at school can be bad enough, but when you’re enrolled in the kind of school Reed posits, it can be much worse. I’m not the biggest fan of stories with school-age protagonists (my own school years are happily long, long ago). The moreso with a story that follows the current fad of werewolves and vampires and bears oh my as being normalised (up to a point) in society.
Vylar Kaftan. Lion Dance.
Nicely told story set against a backdrop of a US being hammered by a flu pandemic – San Francisco has survived better than many cities, but there are curfews, power and medicine shortages, and civil unrest. A group of young men decide that Halloween is a good night to celebrate the Chinese New Year that was missed earlier in the year, and take to the street in three lion costumes, dancing their way through the streets until they come to a group celebrating Halloween in a more traditional manner. Inside the hospital we see some of the human cost of the pandemic, and the protagonist realises that it is time to do something positive.
Eugene Mirabelli. This Hologram World.
A beautiful story from Mirabelli, that blends hard SF, theoretical (and historical) mathematics and physics, with a story of painfully heartbreaking humanity. Mind you, I am a bit of a sentimental old fool – but I defy you to read about Richard Feynman’s letter to his dead wife without tears forming!
(You can read the full text of the letter here. Kleenex at the ready!
Ekaterina Sedia. A Handsome Fellow.
In Leningrad, under siege, there is something even more horrible than the starvation and the shelling…
A well-handled story from Sedia, drawing the reader into the besieged city and creating a palpable sense of horror and inevitable doom…
John Alfred Taylor. Cromaphotores.
A few years hence, but teenage girls are still teenage girls. Young Janice and her friends lead a recognisable life to contemporary teens, with some high tech improvements, including a skin-colour changing capability, to combat the threat of melanoma.
However, Janice is suddenly confronted with an intimation of mortality, that causes her to reflect.
Steven Utley. Shattering.
Classy, classy, classy psychological SF set in the deep dark of space, exploring the deep dark spaces of the mind.
Wowza – a double issue that’s an issue and a half – enough excellent SF to keep everyone happy.