Asimovs, September 2007

Robert Reed. The Caldera of Good Fortune.

Reed further mines The Great Ship in his ‘Marrow’ setting to further good, if not great, effect. For those not in the know, said Ship is a vast (I mean, really, really, really vast) spaceship of non-human origin, colonised by a vast range of races as it makes is slow, aeons-long journey across the galaxy.

He is a prolific author, and I’m sure he could quite easily churn out a story a month in this setting quite happily until he drops dead at his keyboard, as I’m sure he’s bound to do – you just can’t see him hanging up his keyboard for a non-writing retirement. (I’m sure his last story will finish with the word nnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn when he crashes nosefirst into the keyboard).

The only minor fly in the ointment is his apparent ability, and willingness, to turn any everyday event into a story, as he has done a lot of lately. As the intro mentions, he takes a cable-car visit up a mountain as his inspiration for this story, and for my money this might just weaken the story through being too reliant on an actual event. Anyhow, buried on the Great Ship (I did, say it was really, really vast) is a volcano caldera, and Reed paints an interest picture of those living near it, their relationship with it, and the ‘outside’ world and universe as they see it. There’s a dramatic climax, and two well known characters make a short appearance at the end, but for my money the story is just a tad below the inventive standard of the last Reed story in this setting, which I read about a week ago (for the record, ‘Hatch’ in the Strahan/Dozois anthology ‘The New Space Opera’, shortly to be reviewed) in which he had to stretch the grey matter, and created a setting that he clearly can’t have visited, and which is ergo more creative.

But that’s a minor quibble. Long may Reed’s nose keep off the n key.

Kim Zimring. My Heart as Dry as Dust.

A slightly awkward mix of plot and moral debate. Someone is going to the gallows for committing a crime, but who has up their sleeve (or, rather, embedded in their neck) a hi-tech means of avoiding the fate that the noose has in store for them. As we follow their final hours, we find that there is a moral dimension to their act that condemned many millions to die – a greater good, that will prevent even more dying in the future (of HIV/AIDS).

However, not all goes as planned, and the murder/saviour pays the ultimate penalty. For my money, the sfnal gimmick rather gets in the way of the moral debate.

James van Pelt. How Music Begins.

A high school orchestra are struggling to get just right a special piece of music, and there are interpersonal and group dynamics to be sorted out. The performance is an important one for they are (for reasons unexplained) seemingly being ‘held’ captive by some presumably alien force, presumably seeking something from their music. Perhaps the perfect rendition will set them free? But in order to make that perfection, there is a price to be paid.

Ted Kosmatka. The Prophet of Flores.

Kosmatka posits an alternate Earth where those who believe that the Creationists who believe that the Earth is but a few thousand years old have evidently (although possibly fraudently) evidenced the truth of their belief, and we follow a young boy through his childhood and his scientific experiments which a particularly unpleasant father objects to, and to adulthood when further scientific experimentation is objected to by the authorities.

For me, I’d rather have seen the issues covered outside of the alternate history milieu, which for me puts a hazy veil over the issues, rather than throwing them into relief. In this world there are plenty of father’s with fundamentalist views, School Boards, and research institutes, and governments against whom it is possible to come into conflict on these issues, with plenty of mileage for fiction.

Kit Reed. What Wolves Know.

A teen boy, feral through being raised by wolves, is ‘rescued’ by his natural family, and he has to come to terms with his past as a wolfboy, but, more challengingly, with his past as a child, and the role of his parents in his upbringing and his loss to the wolves, in a complex and moral story which challenges the reader, as opposed to being a straight read with the issues laid out clearly.

Pati Nagle. Draw.

A young boy living with his father on a research station on the sea-bed realises that his father, out inspecting pipelines, needs rescuing…. and, erm, rescues him. Swop the sea for deep space and you have a routine Analog type story, the ending of which, 99 times out of 100 you can guess.

Nancy Kress. By Fools Like Me.

A strong story from Kress – short and powerful. She provides a potent take on what the conditions on Earth might be like in a generation or two, after climate change has made a major impact. Those struggling in the conditions have taken a strong view against that which caused the problems, to the extent that even classic books such as Alice in Wonderland are destroyed as evidenced of sin – the cutting down of trees to make paper, thus changing the CO2 balance.

R. Garcia y Robertson. The Good Ship Lollypop.

In F&SF in July last year Robertson’s ‘Kansas, She Says, Is the Name of the Star’ took my fancy, although it was evidently not to the taste of the 3 of the 4 Years’ Best editors whose volumes I’ve read this year. I was looking forward to this story (to the extent of tutting as the pages left to be read gradually dwindled as I made my way through the other stories leading up to this one, the last in the issue).

With it’s title, and its main protagonist being a curly blonde girl called Shirlee, then clearly RGyR is referencing Shirley Temple, but any further linkages are somewhat harder to spot than was the case with the previous take on the Wizard of Oz, as I’m not at all familiar with the Temple ouvre (mind you, she was touted for the role of Dorothy wasn’t she).

Robertson fairly zips through the story, rather too fast for my liking, as there’s a lot in there which could be filled out. It’s an at times dark, although more plausible than many sf stories, take on the lives on young people in the future, seen through the eyes and the actions of the young people. The Boogeyman is after her and her friends, and when we find out who the boogeyman is, is transpires that it is the transition to adulthood, and adults themselves, which are the dark lurking dangers for the children.

One minor issue for me – Shirley Temple was of my father’s generation, when things were more innocent (or at least, appeared so on the surface). Whenever I see footage of her now, I have the same qualms I have when I read about or see on tv the beauty pageants for very young girls which are evidently popular in parts of the US, and I did feel a slight frisson of discomfort in reading a story written by a man of about the same age as me, involving sexual activity amongst teens. Whilst the other stories don’t go into this area, this is the sixth of the eight stories which feature children/teens : I sincerely hope there isn’t a Harry Potter/Buffy-isation of SF/fantasy going on!

Conclusion.

Just a single issue? It certainly feels like a double issue in terms of quality and quantity – although the stories don’t quite reach the highest of high heights. But if this is a single issue, what is next month’s double issue going to be like?

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