Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, February 2002

I’ve been reading Asimov’s in two formats over the past couple of years: the traditional dead-tree pulp sized magazine, and an e-version produced by PeanutPress (now Palm Digital Media), which I read on a Cassiopeia palm-top/PDA.

The Cassiopeia version was extremely handy – several issues of magazines could be kept alongside a number of novels on a hand-held device which also ran Word, Excel, Doom (!) and more. The main disadvantage was the very small size of the screen.

As of a couple of months ago there has been another e-version available. FictionWise, who have been selling an increasing number of short stories and novellas in a wide range of formats have now added Asimovs/Analog/F&SF to their product range.

FictionWise make their e-content available in several formats, and having purchased a story or magazine, you can choose to download in several formats. The one I chose for this review was a PDF version, which enabled me to read the magazine on my home PC and my laptop. The PDF version works well, with a reasonable amount of text per screen. The small screen of the Cassiopeia, in contrast, means that pages tend to consist of one or two paragraphs at most. The picture below shows how much text appears per PDF page – the fuzziness is due to the screen capture : the crispness of the text on screen is fine.

Obviously it is a trade-off – a hand-held device enables to you read on the train, tube, bus and other locations where taking out and booting up a laptop would not be advised!

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Across the Eastern Divide. Allen M. Steele.

Another in the author’s Coyote sequence. The first in the series, Stealing Alabama (now available, free of charge, for a while, on FictionWise) was a standout and is a current Nebula Preliminary Ballot title.

In this latest installment, we follow several young people, children of adults who appeared in previous stories, embarking upon an adventure doomed to disaster. Full of youthful enthusiasm, they head off in sailboats to explore the alien world which the small colony of settlers is beginning to establish itself upon.

And, as is flagged up in the initial paragraphs, one of the group meets their death. Another comes to terms with her pregnancy, and one of the putative fathers heads off into the wilderness to find himself (there is a suggestion that his story will be told later).

I haven’t particularly engaged with this series after the first installment. What we have here is largely an adventure story with a group of young people heading off on an ill-fated voyage. This kind of thing has been done before, and done much better. The sfnal elements aren’t there to any extent and are dismissed when the plot suits it (the shuttles are taken out of action by the adventurers to stop them being picked up quickly after absconding), then appear when helpful (a sat phone is dug out of a backpack when things have gone pear-shaped and rescue is needed).

To my mind Steele could spend the rest of his life (like the ill-fated character in a previous story) writing ad infinitum about the Coyote. A fix-up novel is promised. My preference/recommendation would be for a novelisation of the first episode!

Tourist. Charles Stross.

In an article on LocusMag (click here), Scottish writer/IT journalist Charles Stross was listed in Nick Gevers’ Top 10 Contemporary Short SF and Fantasy Writers, citing Stross as “appears to have cornered the market on density of concept”, and this story is no exception.

Manfred Macx finds himself in a very disturbing position: he is mugged, and his glasses and belt are stolen, leaving him … unconnected. ‘..is this what consciousness used to be like?’ he ponders, as the mugger who is wearing his kit is struggling with information overload. A struggle over the Equal Rights Act is taking place, legislation which ‘is based on a cult of individuality that takes no account of the true complexity of postmodernism’. Stross brings together characters from previous stories (including the lobsters), and new players(!). But to tell more would be to spoil your enjoyment.

Slipped in between the story, the future history of IT and AI is scoped on a broad canvas, with just enough detail to intrigue. It is almost cyber-impressionism – Stross gives shapes and images and colours, but leaves out the unecessary fine detail.

Here’s a tip: if you like hard SF, and you haven’t read Stross, click over to Fictionwise and buy this issue of Asimovs.

Touch Pain. Cecilia Tan.

An interesting departure for Asimovs, as this is essentially a supernatural/horror story. The main protagonist finds herself, following her mother’s death, more attuned to the suffering which went on the family house over many years. It would appear she is a ‘doleurvoyant’ – someone who can sense the psychic residue left over from traumatic events.

All very X-Filesy. I can forgive Asimovs in this case, as an exception to the rule, and as it is well written.

The Long Chase. Geoffrey A. Landis

Half a millenia hence. The solar system has seen a war between two factions – the collective faction, in which humans which have uploaded into computers wish to co-operate to the extent of merging brains, and the faction who choose to remain individually uploaded into computers. The ‘real’ humans are lost, lost in simulations and no longer relevant.

The collective faction have won, although one lone individual, an AI construct smaller than a grain of sand, is fleeing the solar system in a desperate attempt to escape and survive. However, chase is given, and in a story resonant of Larry Niven’s best, early, work we are treated to a chase which is dramatic despite taking centuries.

Quantum Anthropology. Liz Williams.

British writer Williams’s novel ‘The Ghost Sister’ from 2001 provides the background to this tale. We are treated to two perspectives. One its the traditional human anthropologist, Daniel Ottrey, who believes that the very act of observation impinges upon the behaviour being studied. The other perspective is one of the native aliens, who quite clearly proves the fatal flaw in this scientific paradigm.

As Daniel attempts to study, and then communicate with the natives, their total lack of interest in him is galling at first, then becomes more dangerous when it threatens his very existence.

Treading the Maze. Steven Utley.

Yet another in the author’s Silurian tales sequence. As has happened in other recent stories in this series, the quantum nature of the universe proves problematic for one scientist, who finds upon return to Earth that things are not quite what they were before. It is fairly clear from an early point in the story as to what the twist is to be, and with other stories having covered the same ground, my question is – why?

Conclusion.

A strong issue, giving as wide a range of SF stories as you could ask for. The PDF format on laptop/PC worked fine, but lack of portability meant it took longer to read this issue than it would have taken in dead-tree or PeanutPress format.

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