Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, September 2002

Pressure of work has been keeping away from my SF bookshop haunts of late and from spending much time reading. Damn this Real Lifetm. I’ve also let the August issue of Asimov’s slip by un-purchased, and shall endeavour to locate a copy!

Eleanor Arnason. The Potter of Bones.

I should own up to the fact that I much prefer SF to fantasy (this is Best SF, and not Best SFFH), and personally have never found myself engaging with Arnason’s stories. Her ‘Lydia Duluth’ stories have generally failed to impress me :

I did find her ‘Knapsack Poems’ [Asimovs, May 2002] more to my taste on account of being somewhat more inventive.

‘The Potter of Bones’ links to ‘Dapple: a Hwarhath historial romance’ which I damned with faint praise : “Le Guinian fantasy – bit of gender role swapping, young girl wanting something which is denied women (in this case, acting) etc.” And this story suffers the same failings, IMHO. Whilst Le Guin can at her best create radically different cultures and societies in her stories, here we have a recognisable cod-fantasy mediaeval setting. The race we are introduced differ from humans in that they have different coloured fur, which doesn’t really push the boundaries! And we have a dominant female society with sapphic sex, and a few males lurking in the background.

Leaving that aside, the story didn’t do anything for me. A child who is inquisitive beyond the norm is fascinated by bones she finds when digging for clay for her pots is sufficiently engaged to ponder these findings, and ‘invents’ archeology and evolution. Not bad for a young girl.

She meets up with the actor-ess Dapple from the previous story, they fiddle with each others bits, and they live happily ever after.

Charles Stross. Router.

Perhaps I was being a bit unfair on Arnason, as I was eager to read the latest installment in the Mancx family saga. We were introduced to Manfred Macx in Asimovs June 2001 with ‘Lobsters’.

Manfred’s daughter, so memorably conceived in the climax of that first story, has royal status, money, and property. Whilst her dad was fully tooled-up information-wise, she is several steps beyond that. Stross’s manipulation of Moore’s Law means that the pace of change is such that she and a crew of intrepid explorers have been uploaded into a virtual construct which is approaching First Contact.

The dense technological background may well put off some, but not me. And the story (the sequence?) finishes with Amber taking that step to boldly go where no man has gone before, and to embrace the challenge of post-humanity.

Kage Baker. The Likely Lad.

A follow-up story about one Alec Checkerfield, who is evidently of ET origins, but is being brought up, once removed, by English nobility.

Struggling with pubesence/tumescence the young British MiLord is inveigled by his piratical AI butler to seek money (and excitement, and sex) through smuggling.

As with most SF humour, you either really like it, or really don’t. I’ll put myself in the latter camp, as it came across as Harry Potter-ish. (I should point out that this was from reading half a page of one of the Rowling novels, which was more than enough for me, thank you very much.)

Brian Stableford. Hot Blood.

Another story set in Engand!

Stableford has been writing about genetic modification to mostly good effect for some time now – “Snowball in Hell” [Analog Dec 2000], ‘Taking the Piss” [Asimovs June 2002], and ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ [Asimovs, Oct 1994].

This story doesn’t quite have the narrative impact of ‘Taking the Piss’, as it describes laconically the travails of a young farmer (the narrator) and his wayward brother’s attempts to get rich through genetically modified pig’s blood, which has become the de rigeur fashionable drug of choice.

James Van Pelt. The Last of the O-Forms.

A chilling and macabre tale. A mutagen has been causing gross birth-defects, with ‘original’ species of animals a rarity. Trying to make an honest buck from this is Trevin, who has a travelling freak show/circus/zoo. Sadly the population is becoming increasingly inured against seeing such creatures, and the future for the show is bleak.

Will Trevin stoop to exploiting his similarly deformed daughter?

The story gets across the Mississippi heat and the similarly stifling future for humanity fairly well, but I found the names of the mutated animals (crocomouse, tigerzelle) jarred slightly.

Geoffrey A. Landis. Turing Test.

A short ‘story’. A transcript of a conversation in which the Turing Test is being taken is provided – or at least one half of the conversation. Just how do we define intelligence in this day and age?

Conclusion.

The Stross story a treat, Stableford and van Pelt thoughtful although not hitting the peaks, Arnason and Baker left me unmoved.

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