Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, August 2002

Robert Silverberg. The Second Wave.

This is introduced as another in the author’s Via Roma Alternate History series, and I’m like, whatever.

William Sanders. Duce.

An Alternate-History-cum-time-travel story featuring Mussolini. It’s quite short.

Louise Marley. Jamie Says.

A touching short story seen through the eyes of a young boy. On an off-Earth farming settlement the women have rebelled against their treatment by the men and have left the planet. The men are struggling to come to terms with their loss, and the young boy in particular.

Brenda Cooper and Larry Niven. Free Floaters.

Two humans are employed on a mission to attempt to communicate with a very strange life-form living in the stratosphere of a gas giant which is is floating through space. They manage to establish a communication, and escort one young member of the race on a voyage to find another planet to explore.

Daniel Abraham. Ghost Chocolate.

Having seen his Aunt die from cancer, Michael Ahrendahl swears to avoid death. As he and his wife age, a new procedure that enables the brain to be mapped and loaded into a replacement body offer the opportunity to cheat death and ageing.

However, (as in Think Like a Dinosaur) – there is an anomaly when both the old Ahrendahl and the freshly-minted Ahrendahl are alive after the procedure. Both meet, and come to terms with what has happened and what must happen.

William Barton. The Engine of Desire.

A return to the setting and themes of Barton’s memorable ‘Heart of Glass’. In that bleak story, humanity is constrained within the solar system. It featured an ‘optimod’, a genetic creation which is almost, but not-quite human, and who wreaks a terrible revenge on the human stowaways he finds on his cargo-ship.

Further in the future, much further, this story features another optimod, Crystal, is the character upon whom what exactly is to be human, or almost-human, is explored. Another intense, powerful story, although more upbeat.

Crystal is a creature of undisclosed longevity, who has lost much in his long, long life. The story starts with him alone, so very alone, on the hull of his cargo-ship, listened to the occasional, faint messages between the stars.

He discovers a welding-machine with an AI, and the two strike up a partnership/relationship in which the machine (aka Mr Pommesfrites, and rather too reminiscent of C3PO for my liking) displays more humanity than the detached Crystal. It is a ‘Silvergil’, an asexual humanoid robot whom forces Crystal to confront his frozen inner-self, against the story background of intergalactic war and almost unfathomable brutality.

The story to my mind has echoes of Cordwainer Smith – top quality stuff.

Conclusion.

The Barton story is the pick of the issue for me, with Abraham’s a good seond-place. I skipped both the historical story from Silverberg, and the others are fair-to-middling.

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