Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, July 2002

Paul McAuley. The Assassination of Faustino Malartre.

I’ve only just read ‘Making History’, published two years ago by PS Publishing, a prequel to other stories in his ‘Quiet War’ sequence, of which the story in hand is also part, and which helped the enjoyment of this story.

This is a tauter story, describing the final hours in the life of one Colonel Faustino Malarte. The unpleasantly violent Colonel is planning his final hours on Mimas, avoiding the threat of an offworld genmod assassin after him, and planning to finalise his nefarious schemings before leaving the Saturnian moon a wealthier man. He is arrogant enough to believe he can play with fire without getting his fingers burnt. Right up to the final, horrifying moments when he finds his cunning has not been enough, and the terrifying assassin hunts him down.

The storyline against which his fate is described is that of Sri Hong-Owen, one of two gene wizards who have been on opposite sides of the war, who has found a challenging scientific conundrum left by her opponent, Avernus.

Michael Jasper. Natural Order.

A first professional sale, which bodes well for the author. A short and unsettling tale in which a group of ill-matched individuals with super-natural powers are directed by vaguer beings to places where catastrophe, both natural and manmade, happen. You can almost smell the smoke in the air.

Karin Traviss. A Slice at a Time.

Social workers on an alien planet struggle with the societal norms of the planetary inhabitants. Eating aged family members is obviously against our norms, but what if it is a millenia-old local custom?

Pat Cadigan. Linda.

A claustrophobic portrayal of domestic violence, with the eponymous victim relating how her run of relationships with violent men is due not to some perverse quirk in her nature, but due to the evil that men do : or, in fact, the evil that one man does. Her first persecutor killed himself, but with a purpose – to come back time and time again, to ensure that her life on Earth is a doomed one, and to ensure that when she dies, he is waiting for her.

A chilling supernatural horror story, although the ending is uplifiting – albeit it is somewhat spoilt by the cheesy pro-wrestling setting.

Molly Gloss. Lambing Season.

Similar in feel to the preceding story, in its thoughtfulness and depth of empathy portrayed. A female shepherd (I’ll refrain from referring to her as a sheperdess would bring up Little Bo Peep images) spends several seasons looking after her charges. She is happy in her own company, and when she meets on several occasions an alien who is evidently surveying the remote wilderness, she does not engage with it directly, but on a very ‘human’ emotional level does achieve an understanding and a connection.

Loria Ann White. Target Audience.

An altogether lighter story, perhaps suffering from being placed directly after two particularly strong stories.

3D hologrammatic advertising avatars are the order of the day, and one single mum struggling to bring up her two kids has to make a decision as to when the advertising gets too intrusive.

Robert Reed. Veritas.

A most un-Reed-like story. If I had read the story without knowing its author, I would have accredited it to a so-so author, and the place of publication probably being ‘Analog’ or one of the e-zines.

The plot could almost be tongue in cheek and described as a gonzo time travel adventure viz: These two dudes at college are chilling, and one says ‘Hey man, wouldn’t it be kewl to, like, get a time machine and go back to Rome with a shit-load of modern weaponry and totally frag their sorry asses’. And his roomie says ‘Hey, yes, and we can take crates of Bud and stuff, and like get laid all the time’. And the two guys do just that.

I do Reed a dis-service, as the story isn’t quite like that, but it isn’t a million miles from it. The story is told through the mechanism of the elderly Emporer telling the story of their Most Excellent Quantum Forking Adventure to a journalist, which doesn’t quite work for me.

All in all a strange offering from Reed, whose stories typically never fail to impress me.

Conclusion.

A pretty good collection, with Cadigan and Gloss oozing quality.

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