Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, February 2001 (Peanut Press edition)

Reflections. Robert Silverberg.

Silverberg’s editorial wryly comments on poor grammar and on the latest haute cuisine trends. However, he rather hoists himself with his own petard when moving on from criticising the use of ‘like if’ with the gramatically incorrect ‘..the newspaper piece I was staring at.’ rather than ‘the newspaper piece at which I was staring.’

Lifeline. Eleanor Arnason.

Lydia Duluth, she of “Stellar Harvest” (Asimovs June 1999 and a Hugo nominee, and online on the Asimovs website) and “The Cloud Man” (Asimovs October/November 2000) returns to the pages of Asimov.

In my review of the latter I commented on Arnason’s reference to a shiny, metallic plastic party balloon as being somewhat anachronistic in the far future setting. In this story she goes even further, mentioning a range of 20thC objects:

  • decaff espresso
  • folding beach chairs
  • a video camera which needs to have the exposure and focus adjusted
  • duct tape

And furthermore, when using cables to link two computers together Duluth ponders: “how long had humans been using these? Millennia?” Well, it is only 2000 and I for one have already started using infra-red!

I believe this may be symptomatic of getting into a certain mind-set when writing a series of short stories about the same character – the author feels less of need to spend as much time scene-setting or character building. And furthermore Arnason almost slips into short hand early on:

“Astronomers .. persuaded the local AIs to send a STL construction ship. The ship built an FTL station;..”

The story is somewhat mechanistic in its description of the flora and fauna of the latest setting in which Duluth is located, and the idyllic beach setting is straight out of 20thC Earth, down to the politely subservient houseboy.

The plot revolves around a gender-oppressed society – except that unlike Earth it is the men who look after the babies and who are oppressed (hey, no-one has thought of using *that* role reversal before!)

The story ends with a lengthy dialog between Duluth and an AI concerning destiny and other matters – which comes across as being what Arnason is really wanting to talk about, with the preceding story the means to get her there.

Romance with Phobic Variations. Tom Purdom.

Phobos is the setting for a tale of love and a con trick involving genetic modification. Joe Baske, a spiritual descendant of Casanova, falls for his ideal woman – the problem being that the woman in question has been altered to meet that ideal. An opportunity to turn the tables is offered to Joe.

The story is cleverly written, although just as I was expecting the story to finish and in a slightly awkward contrast to what has preceded, it continues with a dramatic pursuit across the surface of Phobos – a Schwarzeneggerisation of the story similar to the Total Recall film version of the PKDick “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” short story.

Ice and Mirrors. Brenda Cooper and Larry Niven.

The Thray wish to terraform and colonise the frozen planet Trine. Kimber and Eric, recent graduates of the Institute of Planetary Ecological Studies are selected as impartial enforcers of interterrestrial law, to ensure that the planet has no indigenous life or archaeological remains to preserve.

But whilst surveying, some disturbing evidence is uncovered, which along with a carbon dioxide conundrum, suggests the Thray may be up to something.

The Cooper/Niven collaboration works well, a balance of hard SF, action and personal relationships.

The Gods Abandon Alcibiades. Joel Richards.

Ancient Greece, with the long-lived offworld Kathan race cloning Grecians and downloading their personas onto blank cortex. However, Alcibiades has tired of near immortality and does not wish to leave this earth-bound body, despite the implications thereof.

A well-written story, very much in the mode of Silverberg’s Ancient Roma milieu. You can almost feel the heat and dust, taste the wine and olives.

Day’s Heat. James Sallis.

Disturbing tale of three children, two of whom are required to be the window onto the world for their (almost literally) vegetative brother.

Exclusion. Daniel Abraham.

Got a problem with someone? Then simply get your systems to edit them out of your life – a form of alternate present. But what if this becomes too commonplace?

User Centric. Bruce Sterling.

Reprinted from a trade journal for Design Engineers. A series of e-mails from a product design team segues into the perfect models on which the team can base their developments. A very dyspeptic take on the consumerist society in which we live.

Other content

  • Poems :-o
  • Paul di Filippo’s short reviews of a large number of books
  • SF Convention Calendar

Conclusion

A pretty good collection of stories, without there being any real standouts. Arnason’s Lydia Duluth stories aren’t particularly my cup of tea, so I would put forward the Cooper/Niven collaboration as my pick of the bunch, although the stories by lesser-known names James Sallis and Daniel Abraham stand up well. And a message to Gardner Dozois/Eleanor Arnason – no more Lydia Duluth stories for a little while?

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