I’m not a big fan of xenolinguistic/xenothropological fiction. Ursula K Le Guin has a lot to answer for in my opinion, in offering a model for others to follow. I suppose you could trace back several decades to find the author of the first ‘astronaut stranded on an inhospitable moon who has to use his native cunning and limited resources to hand in order to survive’, whose plot continues to the used to this day.
Here an observer breaks the cardinal rule of remaning hidden and not getting too close to the indiginous population being studied. She manages to make a linguistic/cultural understanding breakthrough, and also finds out her role in the future of those she has been studying : “I am X-aha the X-ooh!”. Yes, really.
I take the view with my reading that I should be able to leave what I’m reading open next to me and have my wife or children pick it up and not laugh at the story. Come the dreadful Day of Judgement, Lawrence C Connolly is going to be at the pearly gates with St Peter looking down at him : ‘Mr Connolly, did you really spend your three score years and ten writing stuff like ‘I am X-aha the X-ooh?’
Lucius Shepard. Stars Seen Through Stone.
I have a lot of time for Lucius Shepard, and he rarely disappoints. However, this one does for me. Had I read it in a mainstream fiction magazine I’d have been less disappointed. He draws on his personal experience of the music biz, which makes for a seemingly convincing portrayal of a Pennsylvania-based independent music producer. He finds some gold in panning for talent, a rather grimy youth with less than ideal personal hygiene and habits, who happens to have a rare musical talent. We follow their relationship, against the background of a local mansion, which appears to be having a regular (as in every two centuries) visit from the previous owner.
And that’s really about it. Sure, its well written and extremely three-dimensional, but the fantastical element isn’t particularly great, and it certainly doesn’t get to the heart of the darkness that Shepard usually gets to. I’ve raised an issue about Robert Reed’s writing of late, where he seems to be drawing very regularly on personal experience to write stories that are ok, but not great, and the same result applies here : more of a mainstream story, as opposed to one where the creative juices are given free rein.
Ray Vukcevich. Cold Comfort.
Short humorous piece in which a refrigerator with a built in AI calls up for a service, and gets into a conversation with another electronic intelligence.
P.E. Cunningham. Car 17.
A police car whose driver has just been killed appears to be in mourning. A fellow traffic cop takes on Car 17, and finds that there is a lot more to the car. And that the streets of the city are far from safe, as there is a car on the prowl.
M.K. Hobson. Powersuittm.
In the cut-throat business world of the (very near) future, a businessman’s best friend is his AIgent. And it can be pretty depressing when your own AIgent jumps ship to work for the opposition.
The bulk of the issue is taken up with the Shepard novella. It’s a good read, albeit with the gradual realisation that the story isn’t going to take that step up into the really dark parts of Shepard’s imagination.