Asimovs October/November 2014


Gord Sellar. Stars Fell on Alabama.

A young(!) black jazz cornet player flees Kansas City, hopping on board a train. As the train thunders through the night towards Chicago, life gets complicated. As if it isn’t complicated enough, what with him carrying the shining star that fell from the skies over a hundred years ago, which has opened up his mind to the scope of the universe, and the wonders of jazz.

It’s nicely told, capturing a period feel well, and there’s a particularly nice paragraph-long sentence in which a sense of wonder is bestowed upon him. And in addition to mention of Heisenberg there’s a guest appearance from another giant of science.

Dale Bailey. Troop 9.

Chilling horror from Bailey, as a girl guide troop go feral, heading off into the local woods, buck naked. They avoid the searching families, but in deep mid winter their stored nuts are finished, and there is nothing in the woods to forage, so their attention turns to…

Brendan DuBois. Minutes to the End of the World.

Wry take on the apocalypse, as we are presented with the minutes of a meeting of the Board of Selectmen of Trenton, New Hampshire. The town has found its remoteness has helped avoid the Hanoi Flu that has devastated the rest of the world, as has it’s rules and regulations, followed diligently.

Joel Richards. The Witch of Truckee.

A fire in a remote winter cabin highlights a young woman’s abilities. The story is only a few pages long and is perhaps missing that little bit extra.

Emily C. Skaftun. Diary of a Pod Person.

An author new to me, and a story I struggled with due to a lack of focus.

It misses an opportunity to into one of a few different directions in depth, opening up a couple of story elements but not going far enough into any. Resurrected as a clone, the first human to have had this done, the story could have focussed just on coming to terms with what might have been lost and what has been gained. Or the role of the chimpanzee(s) in testing out this process could have been an entire story in itself. Or there could have been a whodunnit in terms of the attack that led to the protagonist’s death. Or the relationship, potentially changed, with relatives and daughter.

The story covers all of these, but didn’t quite satisfy with any of them.

James Patrick Kelly. Uncanny.

A short two-sider from Kelly, the kind of story Isaac Asimov would be writing if he were still alive and mining the robotics milieu.

I fondly remember reading an Asimov story some four decades ago, where a recently jilted woman finds her handsome new robot gets her neighbours talking jealously by making sure they see him kissing her as they arrive for a part.

Here Kelly looks into human nature, that would undoubtedly create a fourth law – a robot must pleasure a human, unless this conflicts with the First Three Laws. A helpful present (bought online of course) from her mother enables a jilted woman to have a man around the house again, and with various accessories also available online….

And, like Asimov, there’s a little twist in the tail.

Robert R. Chase. Decaying Orbit

Two humans undertake a risky mission to explore an alien vessel found abandoned and damaged in a decaying orbit around a remote planet.

There’s politics and human relationships to give a little extra depth to a relatively short story that gets through the action on the double.

Jeff Grimshaw. The Cloisters.

Nicely told story a young man distraught to find that, when going to borrow his mate’s scarf to wear to propose to his girlfriend, finds his mate is in the process of, erm, borrowing the said girlfriend.

Fortunately the old historic Cloisters is on hand, and in particular, another young woman to take his fancy (especially as she sports a ponytail) and suddenly New York is an altogether different place. Grimshaw captures the tone of the young man nicely (“I decided that if somebody stole the scarf I would make no effort to recover it. There are limits. Plus my life was over and stuff”).

Could there be a nicer New York love story in Asimovs this year?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Playing with Reality.

Rusch has fun in a light-hearted taken on the gender politics of golf, and virtual reality, in a pro-am tournament with some very special participants.

Tim McDaniel. Neat Trick.

A two-pager with a twist in the tail, as an ageing lycanthrope ponders his options as the full moon approaches…

Allen M. Steele. The Prodigal Son.

A follow-up a couple of generations on, to Steele’s The Legion of Tomorrow a few issues back, which didn’t really grab me.

There’s not a whole lot of inspiration in the lengthy story, nor, really evidence of a whole lot of perspiration, as it’s fairly routine and somewhat cliched. Funded by the astute financial dealings of a Golden Age of SF writer and his close friends, with governmental space exploration nixed, the Arkwright Foundation has stepped into the breach and are in the final stages of completing an interstellar vessel that will fly to a nearby star with frozen sperm and eggs, which will be used to create babies to be raised by ‘robo-nannies’ (yes, really).

The grandson of the protagonist in the first story, a mid-twenties young man with a track record of false starts in a variety of careers, is summoned to the Caribbean island where elements of the spaceship are being built and boosted into orbit. Having thus far eschewed any interest or involvement in the work of the Foundation, the story is able to progress with lots of info-dumping about the technology along the way.

There are religious zealots opposing the mission, natch, and these are very crudely characterised. The young man takes a fancy for a scientist, and she eventually falls for him, natch. And after some last minute drama, the mission is underway.

Mind you, at least Steele gets a same sex relationship, and a decent British accent into the story.


Not the strongest Asimovs double-issue – Sellar, Bailey, DuBois tickling this reader’s fancy more than the bigger names (Kelly, Rusch, Steele).

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