Reflections. Robert Silverberg.
Robert Silverberg’s ‘Reflections’ looks back, with rose-tinted spectacles (of a metaphorical nature) at the New Wave of SF in the 1960. An issue or two back James Patrick Kelly pondered ‘on being a cyberpunk’. I wonder how the future will view this period?
- A fairly low-key period, with sharecrop, media tie-ins
- a period of formulaic fantasy series and the Chinese Water Torture of the Discworld series
- shelves dominated by b-i-g books (remember when a book as big as ‘Dune’ was the exception) written by Big Names
- the final, final throes of the printed magazines, still publishing editorial and articles six months after they were written (the March 2001 issue of Analog has an editorial on Napster as of summer 2000 : now that is, quite frankly, out of date)
- The rise of the hand-held PC and the success of the Peanut Press versions of those magazines
- Ellen Datlow finding a vehicle for on-line fiction whose wheels do not fall off
- Short SF having a renaissance as it is of a length more suited to reading on screen
Those or my thoughts at the moment. Read Norman Sprinrad’s column in this issue for his, somewhat more authoritative perspective!
Shady Lady. R. Garcia y Robertson.
WWII setting, as American bomber pilot, flying missions out of East Anglia, meets a mysterious Polish blonde.
A most bizarre mission unfolds, following sightings of a flying saucer in German held territory. The bomber, and its crew, fall foul of time-travelling smugglers, finding themselves landing in 13thC Russia.
Evokes a feel of WWII – although I for one was not around, so perhaps I should say that the story appears to evoke an authentic WWII atmosphere. The story at times almost edges into comedy – the Knight Errant at the end sounded to me rather like on of the Monty Python’s Knights of the Round Table (“..I like to push the pram a lot!…), and a massacre of female peasants is passed over somewhat quickly.
The Days Between. Allen Steele.
The second in a series of stories featuring the USS Alabama. The first story (USS Alabama, Asimovs January 2001), was a complex, taut thriller, which I enjoyed hugely, and which had me looking forward to subsequent stories.
On that basis, this story disappoints.
Whilst en route to its faraway destination, the AI of the Alabama disgorges Leslie Gillis from biostasis. This is neither accident nor malfunction, but harks back to the conspiracy element of the first story. Gillis is unable to return to biostasis and is thus condemned to a Robinson Crusoe existence.
The story follows him through alcoholism, insanity (I would have preferred a more scientific term!) and his eventual fate as a writer of fantasy tales about a Prince Rupurt – on that score I think alcoholism and insanity would have been a kinder fate!
The story does not really get to grips with what would surely be the bone-chilling horror of realisation that you are going to be truly alone for the rest of your life, nor the desperate sense of loss of what one has left behind (Gillis has a brief, maudlin rummage through some old photographs) or for the future not to be.
And a couple of other issues:
- Surely the AI and the ship would have systems in place for dealing with failures in biostasis pods? There appears to be ample space and energy for there to be some spare biostasis units.
- Gillis evidently gives no thought to causing major technical problems which the AI states are the only reason it would wake the crew
- In the darkness of his despair might not Gillis have attempted to unfreeze a companion – a Man or Woman Friday, so to speak. In William Barton’s Heart of Glass (Asimovs January 2000) the sole crew member on a long-haul cargo ship finds the temptation some of his cargo offer beyond resistance.
The story ends with a note that the rest of the flight went smoothly. If this is to be the only reported incident of a long interplanetary journey I would suggest the author has not quite hit the mark.
Shioma’s Land. Nisi Shawl.
A new author to me, and with a very good story.
A far future Earth sees a race of Gods – evolved humans who have used genmod, cloning and high tech to live long leisurely lives : in contrast to the mortals of the planet.
One young mortal girl, following her mothers death, is picked up by a female God who sees her as a companion/project/sexual plaything.
Over time they fall in love, and finally marry, with Shioma leaving behind her mortal state.
Well written, although not quite hitting the emotional peaks which the story could perhaps have attained.
The Go-Between. Lisa Goldstein.
Majli Iris arrives on Malku, a newly appointed Ambassador, to negotiate an expansion to their presence on the planet.
The Hrawu have taken to the dogs brought to the planet, and Majli ponders what this promiscuity of affections may mean. A violent attack on a Hrawu threatens to disrupt the negotiations, but in the end leads to a revelation about the nature of the alien/canine relationship.
Another good, though not outstanding, story.
The Dust Gathered Here. Kage Baker.
Forsooth, upon espying this tale was I not mortally afeared that here was yet another time travel tale featuring Wm Shakespeare, the like of which is scarce uncommon, combin-ed with the Ancient Figures Transported to the Future by Media Types plot line.
But Kage Baker handles well this story which sees a holo-simulacrum of Shakespeare which has been enhanced by the mind and soul of the real bard, captured on his death-bed.
Past Imperfect. Robert Reed.
A very good shorter story by Reed.
Morris Lanes, now in his sixties and widowed, has his past to look back on. His past included his wife and fame as a mathematician whose work has led to the development of devices which enable people to write a different past for themselves.
A young female burglar re-writes her past to incorporate Lanes, whilst he writes her future.
On books: after Science Fiction. Norman Spinrad.
An excellent piece of work by Spinrad, which takes us from Wells and Verne, via Dune, Bug Jack Barron, Stranger in a Strange Land, to reviews of Michael Swanwick’s Tales of Old Earth, Paul di Filippo’s Joe’s Liver, and James Flint’s Habitus, to comment on the state of SF.
Another very strong issue with only the Allen Steele story a bit of a disappointment.