Asimovs. September 2010.

Nancy Fulda. Backlash.

A ‘taut thriller’ mashing up time travel and terrorism.

A retired special ops guy suffering flashbacks to his time in South Africa fighting terrorists finds himself suddenly in a whole new world of pain as the future catches up with him. A young waitress in a restaurant rescues him from attack, and it turns out …. spoiler ahead … that she has in effect been taken over by her future self, his future wife. Things haven’t worked out as they should, as his future self has failed to imprint on his current mind; worse still, he finds out his daughter is sleeping with the enemy. There’s an enemy within, who, if left unstopped, will lead to a terrible regime in the US, and of course, they must be stopped. But how to do it without harming the daughter? It’s a page-turner of a science thriller, admittedly with a few cardboardy characters.

Eugene Mirabelli. The Palace in the Clouds.

Following a ‘taut thriller’, a story much more in keeping with the best that Asimovs can offer. Mirabelli posits a Venice of the skies, punctuation his narrative with the backhistory that explains how after centuries of persecution, the Venetians, inspired by the Montgolfiers, headed to the skies, in vast dirigibles that hid amongst the clouds.

A young boy relates his experiences of visiting such a city in the company of his uncle. It’s a story lovingly crafted, with a lot of care clearly taken in writing in, and deserving of care and attention when reading it.

Benjamin Crowell. Wheat Rust.

An entertaining adventure on a generation starship, so far into the journey that the original inhabitants are the stuff of lore, communities and mini-nations have evolved, and yet, humain frailties and emotions remain. Rui Santos is the ‘hero’ of the story, generally more concerned with satisfying his libido, who finds his life interrupted by a pair of visitors from a more advanced part of the starship landing virtually in his lap whilst by the beach. There’s a threat to all on the ship – rather charmingly, it’s a rust disease afflicting the wheat – and he is persuaded, by a fly containing a partial-AI of one of the visitors, to undergo a dangerous journey to another part of the ship, via the outside.

The only issue being the way the story is suddenly brought to a conclusion – I was expecting a few more pages and was rather disappointed!

Mary Robinette Kowal. For Want of a Nail.

On a generation starship, hard choices have to be made. The AI belonging to one of the ship’s families, who rely on it for not only daily issues, but recording their long history, is damaged. In trying to fix the hardware fault, the current family member who is the AI ‘wrangler’ finds that her predecessor in the role has in fact hacked the AI. The reason : to protect himself from the dementia he realises that he is developing, before anyone else spots it. Why? Because on the ship there isn’t the option to keep crewmembers who aren’t contributing to the mission.

There’s a clever playoff between the AI who has lost its long term memory, and the now severely demented elder. The latter has no choice as to his future, but the AI has to make a choice as to its future.

Geoffrey A. Landis. The Sultan of the Clouds.

An intriguing political background, and an imaginative setting amongst the clouds of Venus, to which the story doesn’t quite live up.

Humanity had spread outwards across the Solar System, thanks to private rather than governmental initiative, and as a result wealth beyond imagination rests in the hands of the small group of commercial enterprises who know effectively own the transport and the infrastructure on which travel relies.

There’s a feel of the Golden Age about it, a touch of the Brave New Worlds/Metropolis, and the occasional bit of anachronistic language (‘darn’ is the oath of choice), and a tad of teenage wish fulfilment – a teenager is the titular Sultant of the Clouds, and he has not only massive wealth but the opportunity to have a bride – an older woman wise in the ways of the marital bed.

At heart there’s a scientific conundrum to be de-conundrumised, wrapped around some derring-do, with the help of ‘Pirates’ who oppose the current regime. David Tinkerman has to solve the conundrum, whilst protecting the beautiful female scientist who is aloof throughout (and who remains an enigma). So, a bit on the retro side, but the story skips along nicely enough, although it is not the best cloud-based story in the issue.

Mirabelli the pick of a bunch in an issue which doesn’t quite hit the heights.

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