Robert Silverberg’s editorial ‘Reflections: The Evaporation of Reputations’ ponders the nature of fame and reputation, citing the example of A. Merritt, a very popular and high profile fantasy author of the 1930/40s, whose work is now little known.
Allen Steele’s Stealing Alabama is a standout story. It starts as it continues throughout the story, by making the reader feel slightly unsure what is going on. Is it Alternate History with more high-tech weaponry during the American Civil War, or AH in which the result of that war was somewhat different? (Being English didn’t help me much here as I’m probably as clueless about the American Civil War as Americans are about the English Civil War.) The story starts with Captain Robert E. Lee in Philadelphia, at a reception prior to a big launch. He is struggling with his conscience, with treason on his mind.
The Alabama of the title is a ship in low Earth orbit, and he is to be the captain. The story unfolds, bringing in other characters and plot elements. The story is similar in some ways to Algis Budrys’ Who? in the twists and reversals it offers.
The finer details of the plot I can not discuss, as that would give too much of the story away. The story develops momentum and excitement, which is quite unusual, and begins to feel a little like a Hollywood SF action film (only good).
A single plot element slightly stretches the suspension of disbelief (as if the Captain is *really* going to jeopardise the mission and dozens of individuals with such an unnecessary act!).
Mirror by Robert Reed offers a love story in which multiple Alternate Worlds come together – or at least multiple versions of one of the characters. Will Joel Montgomery, multi-millionaire, or any of his alternates, snatch his old friend’s wife, Pauline? Are there any alternate realities where Joel and Pauline did more than just date briefly?
The story is very good, and interesting when read alongside Reed’s Frank, which appeared in Interzone, April 2000, another story about alternate realities.
The quality of the fiction in this issue remains high with Richard Wadholm’s From Here You Can See the Sunquists covers similar ground in some respects. A couple visit La Jete, a holiday resort which enables holidaymakers to travel back in time. The Sunquists have visited before, and they once again look back fondly on their courting days and earlier lives. The vicarious nature of this, and particularly the slightly less than appealing Mr. Sunquist suggest that this is one holiday that will not be fondly remembered. A wrong turning and a visit to the future show more than either Mr. or Mrs. Sunquist really want to see.
Steven Utley’s Half a Loaf follows. Like his ‘Chain of Life’ in the Oct/Nov 2000 issue of Asimovs, a group of scientists have travelled back in time to prehistoric times. But unlike the scientists in the previous story, this group are a pretty miserable bunch, all told. This is a more lightweight story, and could in fact have fitted into the excellent Chain of Life as a counterpoint to the actions which took place in that story.
Kage Baker’s Studio Dick Drowns Near Malibu is similarly a bit of a step down from the first three stories. It is one of the author’s ‘Company’ stories, where time travelling cyborgs infiltrate their way into society. This story posits a member of the company coming across a suicidal woman, whom he manages to turn back onto the straight and narrow. A neat little story, but no more – certainly compared to her Son Observe The Time.
The final fiction in this issue is Getting Ready for Prime Time by Lawrence Person (a surname which sounds pseudonymous!). First Contact is made through television programmes received from outer space. But the content of the alien transmissions is most perplexing.
James Patrick Kelly’s On the Net reflects on what is what like to be a Cyberpunk, and in addition to book reviews there is some poetry, but the less said about that (as usual with sf poetry) the better.