Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, May 2002

Eleanor Arnason. Knapsack Poems.

A tale of the Goxhat, an interesting multi-bodied entity with a further multiplicity of limbs and facial features.

A wandering poet of this race stumbles upon the scene of a massacre in the hills, one member rescuing a singleton infant. Upon taking refuge in the castle of a local lord, a poem is required in his honour, the absence of which will lead to severe penalty. Despite the attempts of a magician in the lord’s employ to sabotage the poem writing by inducing sexual activity, a suitably honorific poem is written and delivered, and the Goxhat poet escapes in the dead of the night.

An intriguing story, although I have to admit not finding the characters quite as enthralling as the author evidently does in her introduction to the story!

One joy for me was finding another Arnarson inappropriate reference (see a previous review for mention of duct tape, silver party ballooons and decaff coffee etc.). In this alien environment, when the multiple bodied poet is bathing in a rock pool, a servant of the lord provides ‘soap and towels’ as if they were working in a contemporary health spa!

Tom Purdom. A Champion of Democracy.

Warfare is being enacted on a micro- level on the lunar surface between warring political factions. A genetically enhanced child genius is pitted against a scheming, conniving politician Earth-side who will stoop to whatever low trick is required to get his way. His cunning ploy here is the use of democratic voting to determine military strategy.

So-so, but not particularly inspired.

Nancy Kress. Patent Infringement.

A few pages of exchange of memo and lawyer letters (saves having to spend time writing narrative and dialogue etc!) in which the unwilling contributor of DNA to a superflu virus treatment makes a big mistake in attempting to gain royalties.

Gregory Frost. Madonna of the Maquiladora.

The author refers to Lucius Shepard’s help to the author in moving from incubating idea to story. Indeed the story is redolent of Shepard, with the US/Mexican border, and the downtrodden denizens working for a pittance in local factories having a very Shepardian feel.

Frost’s characters take a photographic peek into some dark corners, although, like the story, they do not quite get into the darkness as Shepard would have done. But a good story nevertheless.

Michael Swanwick. A Great Day for Brontosaurs.

A short story with a neat twist, as a young scientist proposes back-engineering dinosaurs. He’s thinking like a dinosaur.

Ian R. MacLeod. Breathmoss.

This novella carries on generations after the ‘Isabel of the Fall’ story (Interzone #169, July 2001) which was well received. My slight concern is that this story does not quite reach the heights of that earlier story – I would urge readers to make a point of seeking that one out (a Dozois collectee this year perhaps?)

With more than a touch of the Ursula K Le Guin’s, we follow young Jalila from her home in the cold, high mountains which seem to be part of the stars, down to the coast. In shedding the breathmoss which helped her lungs cope at the higher altitude, the young girl finds her horizons expanded by the colourful community, the meeting up with a boy (one of only two males in the community), and a wizened old lady who has travelled the great distances between the stars.

Without the lyrical touches and sheer strangeness of the first story, this current provides an intriguing view of a female society, although the lesbian love interest was to me just a bit too by the numbers in this kind of story. However, it is one of the better stories this year.

Conclusion.

The Frost and MacLeod stories are well worth the read – the others less so. But a good issue.

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