Asimovs October/November 2015

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Alan Smale. English Wildlife.

I started this story with a frisson of concern, as it featured a couple visiting England from the USA, and was clearly focussing on some very English settings and characters, and getting that right (or ‘spot on’) can be a very difficult thing for non-Brits.

Fortunately my concerns were unfounded, as Smale (as I found after reading the story) is British by birth, and was quite the chap to handle the story. He takes a peek at the old English ‘green man’ of folk lore and legend, the ‘foliate face’ that adorns many churches and old buildings. Smale postulates a leonine background to the legend, and the drama revolves around it being very much more than just a legend.

The story progresses well through the relationship between the protagonist Richard (also British by birth) and his young American girlfriend, Corinne. Their relationship isn’t going well, and as her research into the green man legend trips over into the obsessive, the outlook for their relationship looks bleak.

The English setting and characters are portrayed well, and I can vouchsafe (I feel that it’s appropriate to be vouchsafing in this context) that the tourist guide is an exact match for a number of the tourist guides I know (but not the one I’m married to) in the pleasant spot in England in which I live, which is England’s oldest recorded town, once Roman capital of England. I mention that as Smale has a series of Alternate History novels set against a backdrop of the Roman Empire not collapsing as it did. It’s worth noting that for many people the Roman Empire may seem a dusty thing from history texts, but when you’re walking along Roman roads, and alongside Roman walls, the shadows and the ghosts of the Roman Empire are very much amongst you.

Sandra McDonald. The Adjunct Professor’s Guide to Life After Death.

An excellent story from McDonald.

It’s a clever conceit, expertly handled. The titular academic is able to provide a guide to life after death from what academic these days called ‘lived experience’. Although that’s probably not a great phrase for me to use, as the experience she has lived through is, in fact, death.

She is dead, and in McDonald’s story, ghosts are akin to tiny, unseen fireflies, flittering around where they have died, with no way to communicate with the living or impact on the world of the living – no sliding coins as per Patrick Swayze in ‘Ghost) (strange, but I can’t watch that film withough getting some grit in my eye – what’s that about??)

Lea has a story to tell, which features a very senior academic with whom she has an affair. The story unfolds and we find out more, much more about the affair and it’s consequences. And to add further richness, more ghosts are added to the story – victims of a mass shooting/suicide at the school.

The detailing in the story is excellent. Lea/McDonald shows compassion for the ghost of the mass murderer, and there are reveals every so often that keeps the reader engaged, and there is emotion aplenty. And this will be the first story of the year to go on the 2016 Best SF Short Story Award shortlist.

I’ve only read about half a dozen stories by Sandra McDonald over the past five years and they have all impressed. With somewhat more time for Best SF than for many years I may well be a bit more proactive, and actively seek out more stories by her, rather than relying on them making their way to me.
Ian McDowell. The Hard Woman.

A Cow-Boy story in which a travelling French music hall artiste with an extraordinary ability (the only fantastical element to the story) visits a town and ends up chasing a no-gooder into injun territory. Twenty plus pages, which will please readers of western tales, but I don’t count myself amongst those, and my patience ran out rather quickly pardner.

Brooks Peck. With Folded RAM.

A four-pager that covers a lot of territory in a not particularly convincing manner. On an orbiting spaceship two crew members find that a new ship’s AI has just gone way beyond the level of independent thought and action it was intended to achieve. And, closing in on them are a group of desperate terrorists/revolutionaries.

I wouldn’t have put this down as an Asimovs-quality story – probably two or three tiers down the publishing pyramid to be honest. There’s no characterisation, only a sketchy background, and the two elements of the story appear almost arbitrarily thrown together.

Rick Wilber. Walking to Boston

I don’t get to read that many stories by Wilber (he may write more, but I don’t get to see them), and those that he writes are often less SFnal than I would like, but he knows how to write a compelling story (flashbacks can help) and he can create believable characters.

Here he looks at a 40 year marriage, through a visit in the 1980s, by a husband to his Alzheimers-suffering wife in a nursing home, and their initial dramatic meeting in Ireland in the early 1940s. He was a tailgunner flying a Lend-Lease bomber from the US to England via Northern Ireland, but when things go wrong a crashlanding in a bay in Ireland sees the two come together. In seeing the plane bearing down towards her grandmother, the young woman begs for help, and her prayer is heard, but there is a price to eventually be paid.

In the 1980s, the visit to the nursing home turns into a long drive, with the husband initially humouring his wife as she thinks it’s the honeymoon trip they had planned once the war finished. But as the miles pass, he finds there is a blurring between the present and the past, as he reflects on the husband he has been over the decades.

A great bit of writing.

Timons Esaias. Hollywood after 10.

A short piece on the well-established trope of travelling back in time to make changes.

A group of people travel back, spending time and effort to blend into a mid-20thC Hollywood, to attempt to change the ‘communist’ witch-hunt across Hollywood. As such, we get to see Humphrey Bogart playing chess, and some other famous names, but the story just doesn’t do enough to make revisiting this historical trope worth the effort. Trampling well-trodden trope grapes doesn’t have that much effect, as so much of the juice has already been drawn from them.

Daryl Gregory. Begone.

An ad-man is bewitched by a woman, and he marries her. Oh, that cute nose twitch!

However, a few years and one daughter later, the marriage is on the rocks. He’s hit the bottle, but just wants his wife to be normal. However, with a twitch of her nose, he is history, and there is a doppelganger in his place..

He makes several attempts to regain his position, but his wife holds all the power, but finally it’s his daughter who saves him. Nicely told, with a particular unattractive protagonist.

Ian Creasey. My Time on Earth.

A young girl returns from her visit to Earth, and has a ghost story to tell her friends from her last night on the planet in the old city of York.

Aliette de Bodard. The Citadel of Weeping Pearls

Set in her ‘Xuya’ sequence, a ‘loose follow up’ to previous, Nebula Award nominee novella ‘On a Red Station, Drifting’, which I haven’t read. I haven’t really got engaged with these stories, and due to it’s length (50+ pages), I’ll pass you over to LocusOnline where you can read Lois Tilton’s review.

Conclusion

Strong stories by Small, McDonald and Wilber.

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