The annual double-issue bumper edition. Hold on tight and take a deep breath…
Robert Silverberg. Dead Souls.
Silverberg’s editorial is very a much ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ in his reporting of a NY Times piece on Lal Bihari, founder of the Association of Dead People in Uttar Pradesh in Northern India. A bureaucratic nightmare in which being wrongly identified by administrators leads to untold problems.
Letters to the Editor. Michael Swanwick.
Swanwick further blurs the line between reality and fiction with what purports to be an amusing collection of his letters to Asimov’s editors responding to requests for up to date and informative biographical information for the magazine. Dry as a bone.
The Longest Way Home. Robert Silverberg.
A novel serialization – Part 1 of 3.
Troubadour. Charles Stross.
The short fiction finally begins, and with much cybergusto. This story is a direct follow on from the well-received ‘Lobsters’ (I enjoyed that story immensely, as did www.tangentonline.com amongst others), and we catch up with Manfred Macx a few years after the real ale/sex/infoglut events in the previous story.
Stross does not disappoint with this story, which carries on at breakneck speed with more of the same, only with suitcases with AI (New Scientist reporting this as a possibility this week)! Manfred is on the run, and has to use his ingenuity to wiggle out of a very sticky situation.
The Boy. Robert Reed.
The prolific Reed turns in a very high quality story, in which a female-dominated future society is well drawn and avoids the more trite role-reversals lesser authors have inflicted upon us in stories of this ilk. A slight issue for me though is the main female character through whose eyes we see the story unfold. Is Reed’s male take on what life through a woman’s eyes is really accurate? Answers (from women) on a postcard, please…
When this World is All on Fire. William Sanders.
Sanders provides another tale with a native American background, only this time with an interesting reversal – the squatters are white Americans, on reservation land, from which they are forced to move by the native American cops. Ecological problems have inundated a lot of American under water, and large populations are on the move. And being moved on.
Bad Asteroid Night. Steve Martinez
Asteroid T-Berg 020 is being mined by robots, but something has gone wrong – 3bn dollars of equipment and processed ore has disappeared. No trace of the perpetrators can be found, until a female scientist follows up a robot, long trapped in a crevice, whose memory might throw some light on the situation.
Rather than straightforward piracy, a ‘ganglyoid’ – a genetically modified multi-armed sub-race appear to be involved.
Not a bad story, but one that would be more at home in Analog IMHO.
Lincoln in Frogmore. Andy Duncan.
Excellent, well-crafted tale of President Abraham Lincoln appearing in the Deep South to urge local slaves in the fight against tyranny. I undoubtedly missed some of the references and nuances, and am not entirely sure whether there are sufficient deviations from what happened for the story to be alternate history, but that is by the by – simply good fiction.
Liberty Journals. Allen M. Steele.
The fourth in Steele’s ‘Coyote’ series. The introduction refers to the ‘riveting’ series – I have to beg to differ. The first story I enjoyed very much, but found the next two stories less so. This story rivets the nails in the coffin as far as I am concerned as Steele does three things in particular which really tick me off: i) disposes summarily with characters from a previous story ii) uses a multi-purpose diary format iii) includes minutes of meetings which include detail rosters etc.
A struggle amongst the factions of the colony is being set up, but it’s all pretty much by the numbers.
Menage. Simon Ings.
This is more like it: a complex story about complex people. Set in London and Hertfordshire, which is more home ground to me than the swamps of the Deep South, Ings explores the nature of identity in a near future world where AI and digitised actors in 24/7 soap operas are the norms. Cracking stuff.
Aotearoa. Cherry Wilder.
In the intro, Wilder is quoted ‘The idea of the Hellenic world based on Benin and Africa was the inspiration for Aotearoa’. The story is short, and fine as far as it goes, but it really only goes far enough to flesh this initial concept out into the bare minimum, storywise. I would have liked to see the author take more time to flesh out the story in terms of plot and characters.
Nitrogen Plus. Jack Williamson.
The progenitor of the term ‘terraforming’ provides a compact story on this topic, which steers clear of the dreadful ‘procedural terraforming’ ‘fiction’ of the likes of Red/Green/Blue Mars. ‘Old School SF’ to some extent, but I enjoyed this considerably more than Williamson’s Hugo-winning ‘Ultimate Earth’ from Analog in 2000.
The Dog Said Bow Wow. Michael Swanwick.
As you will now if you have been reading my reviews for some time, humour in SF is not one of my favourite reading matters – primarily because a lot of SF humour is so rarely funny.
Swanwick proves that it can be done, in a wonderfully bizarre/baroque sort of futuristic-steampunk-ishy way. Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieux is an upright, walking, talking dog of some class, who falls in with a rum sort of cove when visiting London. A plot is hatched in which the very heart of the English monarch (a gross, maggot like Queen, symbolising, perhaps….) is threatened. Gads sir, a palpable hit!
A pretty damn good collection. Steele and Martinez were a tad below an otherwise high standard.