Over 300,000 words of fiction as ever, although the volume is slimmer than usual…
I’m working my way (slowly) through the volume reading and reviewing those stories I didn’t read in 2010, and putting together the usual lengthy review of this volume at the end of that process.
Robert Reed. A History of Terraforming.
Originally in : Asimovs, July 2010.
When this appeared last year I wished for a slightly more leisurely approach! :
Editor Sheila Williams mentions in the editorial that Reed is hard at work on a Young Adult novel, and, truth be told, there’s a touch of the YA about this story. It starts with a young boy on Mars, marvelling at the efforts his father is making to terraform Mars, and follows the boy through his long, long life as we hear about (a lot is described, not shown) the successes, and failures of terraforming across the Solar System, and the successful, and failures, of humanity to address our self-destructive inclinations. The young boy is able to rise to a position through which he is able to exert and influence on the bigger picture, despite following the fashion to be reduced to virtually Tom Thumb size, as humanity terraforms itself for the future. There’s a lot in the story, but it isn’t up there with Reed’s best, with a feel of characters and events being moved about at speed chess rates, rather than a more leisurely Grandmasterly approach that Reed often brings.
Lavie Tidhar. The Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String.
Originally in : Fantasy Magazine, May 2010.
Still online, and it’s quite short, so read it.
Whilst there is a technological element which brings it into SF, it’s more of a story I’d see Strahan or Horton collecting on the fantasy side of their SF&F anthologies, rather than Dozois putting in his purely SF collection. A little morsel, perhaps an intra-course palate cleanser, between the meatier stories in this volume, Reed’s ‘History of Terraforming’ and Steele’s ‘Emperor of Mars’, betwixt it sits.
Allen M. Steele. The Emperor of Mars.
Originally in : Asimovs, June 2010.
Last year I wrote:
Steele revisits a theme from a previous story of his, although with an sfnal rather than a fantasy element. Worryingly, ‘The Days Between’ was in Asimovs in March 2001 – very, very close to ten years ago, and it doesn’t seem that long to me! In that earlier story, the second in his Coyote series, an unfortunate crewmember is awoken from cryogenic suspension, and is forced to live out the rest of his mortal days alone. He suffers from alcoholism and then ‘insanity’ and writes copious stories about one Prince Rupurt, and paints the ships walls to illustrate this stories. Here, on Mars, a young worker on the colony hears that his entire family has been wiped out in an auto accident back on Earth, and he too falls into a makebelieve world. In his case it is Barsoom, as he consumes all the SF literature of bygone times which postulated a green Mars. It’s on OK story, but in a blind taste testing I’d have it down as an Analog story rather than an Asimovs.
Peter Watts. The Things.
Originally in : Clarkesworld Magazine #40, January 2010 – and still online
When I read it recently I wrote:
Watts gets into the mind of the creature that was John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ (via Richard Matheson’s original story). He provides a background to the creature and its distributed/decentralised self, its mission that is taking it across the galaxy, and how it struggles at first to understand the centralised nature of humanity, the existence of a central brain to control the individual, and the absence of a networked whole for humanity. It’s an interesting hypothesis, and the monologue works well, referring back to key scenes in the film to provide dramatic tension.
Geoffrey A. Landis. The Sultan of the Clouds.
Originally in : Asimovs, September 2010.
Last year I wrote:
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.
Kage Baker. The Books.
Originally in : The Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic SF.
Last year in a good anthology, I wrote :
Evidently Baker’s last completed story before she died last year, and a fitting story to go out on.
A young boy is part of a travelling carnival show in a post-apocalyptic world. A lot of the interior of the US is arid desert, but life clings on by the coast, and indeed, the lights are just beginning to come back on. The joy of the story is the joy of the children who find themselves the time to explore a deserted city, and come across something called a … library.
Ian R. MacLeod. Recrossing the Styx.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2010
I enjoyed this one last eyar :
Very dark, top quality macabre humour from MacLeod.
The Glorious Nomad is a massive, nuclear-powered cruise liner, taking its rich, elderly passengers for tours around the Mediterranean. However, many of the passengers are not only rich and elderly, but technically quite dead – rejuve therapy and replacement body parts enabling them to live on, with carers with whom they have a very close relationship. Resident tour host Frank Onions finds his monotous life enervated by the appearance of one carer – a very, very glamorous blonde, pushing her very, very elderly, and very, very rich husband around the decks. Can he possibly find a way for the two to be together?
There is a way, a ghastly way, and whilst Frank gets what he wanted, its very much the case that his love gets what she wants, and for him there is a high price to pay.
Tad Williams. And Ministers of Grace.
Originally in : Warriors (ed GRR Martin and Gardner Dozois, Tor 2010.
From a hefty anthology brought together last year by Dozois and GRR Martin (oh for the days when he wrote SF….)
A story that would have had me gripping the arms of my chair, had I not needed my hands to hold the book. One the one hand it’s a fast, taut thriller, with a solid SF setting, lots of nano-tech and political, religious and societal background pertinent to the story. And on the other hands its an exploration of faith/religious mania. The protagonist is an enhanced assassin (think Arnie), and he is on a mission to kill the President of a society which is anathema to he and his kind – people not only with no belief in god, but completely antagonistic to those with such a belief.
The assassin has been indoctrinated since childhood by a chip in his head, constantly relaying to him the advice of his God, a Christian God, and he must suffer for that God in having that chip removed and replaced by one relaying the messages, the non-religious messages, of those into whose midst he is pitched.
And this is where the story slightly suffers for me, in positing an entirely electronic form of indoctrination, which, when removed at the end of the story leaves him in a wilderness – literally and spiritually – as it therefore doesn’t address the broader, more complicated range of forces which come to create religious zealotry and murderous self-belief.
Eleanor Arnason. Mammoths of the Great Plains.
Originally in : Mammoths of the Great Plains.
Not yet read.
Joe Haldeman. Sleeping Dogs.
Originally in Gateways (ed Elizabeth Ann Hull).
Also collected in this year’s Hartwell/Cramer, whence I read it and wrote :
Haldeman’s ‘Forever War’ was a classic series of stories brought together for a novel, and here he looks at some of the (sadly all too familiar) ethics behind conflict. A soldier returns to a planet where he saw service. This is what he knows : he lost a finger whilst on the planet, the indigenous civilians lost a lot more, his memories were covered up by the armed forces. With drugs on the market that can help to restore the memories, he is intent on finding out what he doesn’t know : what he did in the ‘war’. The story is nicely told, the dialogue flowing particularly well.
Steven Popkes. Jackie’s-Boy.
Originally in : Asimovs April/May 2010
When I read it last year I enthuse :
The double-issue closes with humanity’s dominion over the planet removed, with only a handful of people surviving natural disaster, bio-terrorism, and plague. Michael is one of those survivors, orphaned, and now without even his uncle’s helping hand. Risking death to sneak into the heavily fortified local zoo, he befriends the sole remaining elephant, and we follow them on an epic journey to the south, in search of other elephants. It works well, avoiding the trap of falling into Disneyesque mawkishness, (an ‘Incredible Journey’ for the new millenium), with strong imagery around humanity’s concrete and metal structures falling to the power of earthquake, flood and vegetation, and with the flora and fauna taking over, with the future for humanity looking bleak.
Nina Allen. Flying in the Face of God.
Originally in : Interzone #227, March/April 2010.
When I reviewed it last year I flagged it up as a Year’s Best includee and wrote :
A third strong story from Allen to appear in Interzone.
It features four female characters (one absent) and the relationships between them. Anita is the focal point, brought up by her grandmother after her mother was killed on the launchpad of a spaceship; Rachel, her lover, who has also decided to become a spacepilot, which requires genetic modification, and leaving a lot behind; Anita’s grandmother; and Anita’s long-dead mother.
The relationships between the four are what the story pivots around – nothing happens beyond Rachel taking her leave – and the characterisation, and the description of the rural SE England settings, the references to newly mown grass and meadows, anchor the story. It’s an excellent story, and I’d pick it out as a potential for a year’s best inclusion(Hartwell/Cramer or Dozois) next year.
The only minor quibble is that the story goes on past the obvious ending. The final parting of Anita and Rachel sees Anita hand over to Rachel the dodo necklace that was her mothers, and which has featured in the story, getting that treasured possession of her mothers into space. Rachel answers that not only will she be taking part of Anita’s mother, but “I’ll be taking you both”. That was a perfect ending, but for some reason a few more paragraphs or provided in which, unnecessarily, Anita finds a DVD of a film that had inspired Rachel (admittedly referred to earlier in the story), but we get a run through of the cast and the roles they play, and a critique of their performances. It introduces the cabin boy who was clearly an inspiration to Rachel, but is a diversion from the tight-knit female foursome of the story.
Cory Doctorow. Chicken Little.
Originally in : Gateways
Part of the ‘Gateways’ anthology published in 2010, a collection of stories inspired by/in tribute to Frederik Pohl. It’s online on the Tor.com website here.
It’s a much longer, more serious piece of writing than is usual with Doctorow’s short SF – inasfar as my reading of Doctorow’s short SF leads me to believe. He brings together a number of near future possibilities, technical and societal, to create a believable scenario – an ad agency specialising in pitching product to the super-rich, super-long-lived, super-humans (super in that they have largely transcended the standard human form, to be vat-contained and wired up to a wide range of tech and IT).
Not content with a wealth of technological projection, Doctorow populates his story with some well drawn characters, office politics, and observations left, right and centre. There are a couple of mysteries which are revealed at the end, as moral choices, and ethics become the crux of the story. A lengthy and rewarding read.
Yoon Ha Lee. Flower, Mercy, Needle Chain.
Originally in : Lightspeed Magazine #4, September 2010.
Earlier this year I noted :
It’s only a couple of thousand words long, and still online, so follow the link and read it!
The title relate to the names of four very special weapons created centuries ago by Arighan. Shiron owns/is owned by one of these weapons, and the clever conceit of a story that reflect on effects of actions have echoes into the past, rather than into the future, is that having used the weapons before understanding what it can do, Shiron has found out to her cost, and those of her ancestors, and humanity as a whole, exactly how powerful the guns are.
It’s a short story, an appetiser that leaves you wanting more. In Alastair Reynolds’ hands it would be the opening chapter of a 1,000 page novel.
Stephen Baxter. Return to Titan.
Originally in: Godlike Machines (SFBC)
Not yet read.
Damien Broderick. Under the Moons of Venus.
Originally in : Subterranean Magazine, Spring 2010 and still online.
Also included by Strahan, where I read it and wrote :
If you haz not read the story yet, follow the link above.
It’s a complex story, as you’d expected (and demand) from Broderick, that starts off feeling like one kind of story – a sort of mix of JGB and ERB, with Blackett mourning the Venus that he has lost, to which almost all humanity have been instantly, unexplainedly, transported, along with our moon. Has that happened, or is he delusional?
There is interesting character-driven interplay between himself, a female neighbour who is offering psychological support (or not), and a bed-ridden neighbour, but then some science starts to creep in, and there is math to support a very strange explanation….
Naomi Novik. Seven Years from Home.
Originally in : Warriors.
Truth be told, with Dozois’ 29th imminent, I’d been minded to pop #28 onto the shelves despite not being completely read. This would have been a first, and having popped the slimmer-than-previous volume into my briefcase, read a couple of stories, and am mightily pleased at having done so.
The story was originally published in Warriors, a Tor book co-edited by GRR Martin and G Dozois, which has to be one of the most substantial pairings in anthologising, pedigree-wise. Once retired I shall endeavour to track down the Warriors series and make my way through them.
This story is more sfnal that I thought the volume would have, and it’s cleverly handled in terms of structure and the gradual reveal, with a strong female character, but not the stereotypical fantasy warrior-femme, clad in a skimpy rabbit skin bikini, with gleaming thighs, and a huge bosom threatening to spill out at any moment. The narrator lets the reader into some of the consequences of her actions, prior to relating those actions, telling of her travelling to a far world, and how her visit, to start with, a one of scientific observation, quickly turns into a situation into which she cannot remain an impartial observer.
The conflict into which she is pitched sees a primarily forest-dwelling race living off (or rather, with) the flora and fauna, a complex symbiotic relationship, which they use, to chilling effect, in repulsing the advances of the neighbouring race, who essentially plan to concrete over everything.
Well worth a read!
Chris Beckett. The Peacock Cloak.
Originally in : Asimovs, June 2010.
When I read it last year I wrote :
One of several ‘clones’ of the creator of a virtual universe, sent forth into it by him, is finally reunited with his self/creator/father. Of his siblings, the wearer of the Peacock Cloak has used that aspect of the creator unique to him to urge the universe onto greater things, eschewing a bucolic pastoral idyll, uncaring of the horrors wreaked in the the name of development. The pair meet by a lake, the creator urging a reconciliation. Can we be truly guilty, when we are made in the image of the creator? Are not our deeds simply a facet of him, and ergo his doing?
Carrie Vaughn. Amaryllis.
Originally in : Lightspeed Magazine, June 2010 (and still online
A great bit of world-building, set amongst a fishing community, where climate change and scarcity have made quotas previously used just for the size of catch being used across the board, and a subtle change from families to crews has taken place. There’s tension in the community directed at the protagonist, for no fault of her own. I recommend you follow the link above and read it if you haven’t already – it’s effective and affecting. Strong characterisation.
David Moles. Seven Cities of Gold.
Originally in : Seven Cities of Gold.
Dozois notes in his introduction that this is an alternate history, taking us on a Heart of Darkness journey. I haven’t read the novel, but one of the few drawbacks in the excellent novella, published as a chapbook by PS Publishing, is that is does stay very close to the narrative, and in the feel, dialogue, and set-piece scenes, of Apocalypse Now.
It’s a complicated story, dense, and one that would benefit from re-reading, and from, it would appear, courtesy of a quick google, also having the original chapbook as the introduction in that (according to an excellent review in Strange Horizons, to which I would refer you to read, sets out some of the background on which the premise is set.
Suffice to say that the protagonist is an opiate-addicted Japanese military doctor, sent on a mission, that takes her and her radidly diminishing crew up the Mississipi, in a post-Katrina, war-torn north America. The finale, in a version of Disneyworld, is excellent. Alongside his ‘A Soldier of the City’ published last year in the ‘Engineering Infinity’ anthology (review a pair of very strong stories from Moles.
Rachel Swirsky. Again and Again and Again.
Originally in : Interzone 226.
Last year I wrote:
Clever little piece looking at the consequences of each generation taking things just one step further than the previous one. Just where will it end?
Wow, sounds interesting. I have absolutely no recall about the plot, characters or anything about the story, and the above doesn’t help much! #summationfail (Update : re-read it – it’s about teenagers moving successively beyond tattoos and punk haircuts to progressively more extreme body modification, until…
Hannu Rajaniemi. Elegy for a Young Elk.
Originally in : Subterranean, Spring 2010.
Hearing that it was to be included in this volume, I read it earlier this year :
Announced in Dec 2010 as appearing in Gardner Dozois’ 28th Annual Collection in 2011., still online on the Subterranean website, so read the story if you haven’t already.
Living in the arctic wilderness of Finland, with only a talking bear to keep him company, is a young man who forsake the option to upload. When visited by a digital, partial substantiation of his ex-wife, some ghosts of the past are awakened, and in taking up a request to help those who are no longer earthbound, he enters a strange city, under the thrall of the plague gods, and there is a reunion.
Well written, lyrical and elegaic in its own right. My only beef with Rajaniemi is that he’s gone to writing successful novels way too quickly, and we’ll likely see less short SF from him than we would selfishly like to see!
Michael Swanwick. Libertarian Russia.
Originally in : Asimovs, December 2010.
Whence I wrote :
Near-future in which the ‘Depopulation’ has caused a lack of resources which has meant the Russian government has had to restrict it’s control freakery to the larger population area, thus creates vast stretches of the rural country with no state control.
Taking the name of one Viktor Pelevin (wikipedia entry), a young man with a neat motorcycle that can run on grass and water, and a gun that will only work in his hand, leaves Moscow behind. With the wind in his hair, he has the freedom of the road.
He picks up a hitchhiker who is more than happy to pay her way in kind. However, her true value comes to light when the pair end up in a bar run by ex-state secret servicemen, and it turns out she has more talents than meet the eye. Young Viktor finds that the reality of a countryside free of state control is perhaps not all that he had dreamt of.
An interesting story. It could equally have been set (with some adjustments to the talents of the hitchhiker) in any period of history in the USA (or of most countries to be honest) – just provide a sufficiently rural setting, and you are in a setting that can be a long, long way from normal rules of behaviour.
There were more issues for me with the story that is usually the case with a Swanwick.
When first meeting Svetlana, in conversation, ‘Viktor’ gives a lengthy exposition about what has happened to the country, which doesn’t quite ring true. Svetlana is quite happy to describe herself as a ‘whore’, and is little more than a comic book/James Bond cutout – emotionally detached, beautiful and extremely-deadly Ice Maidenski (although emotional reaction to triple murder does come). And the story is quiet short, necessitating a quick set up and denouement, a rapid shattering of Viktor’s hopes and dreams for the future. There’s certainly dramatic tension in the final scences as ‘Viktor’ realises he is powerless and will run and leave Svetlana to her fate when given the choice – similar to watching the ‘piggy’ scene in ‘Deliverance’. But at least in ‘Deliverance’ the guys are able to regain/redeem their own dignity, without being baled out.
Charley Boorman meets John Boorman if you get my drift (wikipedia)
Lavie Tidhar. The Night Train.
Originally online (and still there) : Strange Horizons, June 2010.
Some two years after it first appeared, I’ve finally got round to reading it, as part of finishing up the few outstanding stories in last year’s take by Strahan on 2010′s best story. And this is indeed an outstanding story, which gets a big thumbs up from me. A gnarly cyberypunky story, getting into some transgender/sexual territory, with a toadlike (Boss Nass)like hood, and much more.
Brenda Cooper. My Father’s Singularity.
Originally in : Clarkesworld, June 2010.
I listened to this last year and wrote :
I listened to this new story as a podcast on Clarkesworld (click here), rather than reading the story online (click here). And I would urge you to do one or the other of these before reading further.
The story is read by Kate Baker, and I have to admit to finding myself feeling much more inclined to listening to stories than I have in the past, on account of her reading style, which I very much enjoy. In the past I have found myself unable to listen to stories purely due to finding the narrator’s voice a grating one – one other well-established source of SF podcasts has stories read by someone whose voice I find is almost as grating as nails drawn down a blackboard.
Here she gives good emotional emphasis to a story that calls out for it – a story of a man looking back on his relationship with his father : from the early years when his father would look forward to when his son would be be able to take a step forward into the future of SF magazines and books, to the waning years of his father’s life, when that singularity has singularly not happened, but when a vast distance is however separating them. Cooper’s tone is just right, not too mawkish, and it leaves the reader/listener to ponder some big questions.
Jay Lake and Ken Scholes. The Starship Mechanic.
Originally in : Tor.com and still online on Tor.com.
I read this last year and wrote:
Announced in 2010 as having been chosen by Gardner Dozois for his 28th Annual Collection in 2011, and hence my reading it (mind you, I’d normally read Jay Lake stories anyhow). The superb illustration by Martiniere and Manchess, accurately and beautifully complements the eloquent description of the alien who falls to Earth at the beginning of the story:
“Tumbled out of the autumn sky over the Cole Valley neighborhood of San Francisco like a maple seed, spinning with his arms stretched wide and his mouth open in a teakettle shriek audible from the Ghost Fleet in Suisun Bay all the way down to the grubby streets of San Jose.”
n.b. The Man Who Fell to Earth is referenced in the story. It’s from the ‘less is more’ school of story-telling, leaving the reader to fill in, or at least, to ponder the blanks. The alien doesn’t say much, but what he says has impact. Short in the reading, likely to be long in the memory.
Alastair Reynolds. Sleepover.
Originally in : The Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic SF.
Good to see that Reynolds hasn’t turned his back on short SF following his big Gollancz novel deal. Of this I wrote :
This little British beauty has been sitting on my desk for some months, to the extent that several of the stories have now been identified as being selected for one or more of the current year’s Year’s Best anthologies, which will be hitting the streets before too long.
The volume also includes a number of reprints – no, make that a number of excellent reprints, as well as the aforementioned excellent new stories.
Reynold’s ‘Sleepover’ starts closer to home than most of his stories. But don’t worry, horizons are expanded in due course. There’s a mystery to be uncovered at the start (Reynolds’ does like his mysteries) as Marcus Gaunt wakes up from a period of technologically-induced hibernation. He was one of the super-rich who took the opportunity to go into hibernation and wait for medicine to get to the point to offer immortality.
Waking up he finds that it isn’t all a land of milk and honey. The only real issue with the story is that you have to accept that the protagonist is willing/able to wait several days for the truth to be gradually revealed to him – he doesn’t put his foot down and demand to know exactly what the fuck is going on and refusing to budge an inch until told.
There’s some dramatic imagery effectively conjured up – a sea packed with what look like oil platforms. Except they aren’t mining oil, they’re looking after untold millions of humans in hibernation. No longer the prerogative of the privileged minority, pretty much all of humanity in now asleep.
Just why is revealed, and without giving the game away, it’s way more complicated than rising sea levels. Ashley mentions in the opening notes that the story was dusted off from notes and work done on a projected novel that has yet to see the light of day. For my money, being a short story reader rather than a novel reader, Reynolds should produce further installments in short story form, eking the story out over several of our years as he works on his big novel contract! He’s left himself a whole world(s) of opportunity for broadening the story (as is also his wont).
Pat Cadigan. The Taste of Night.
Originally in : Is Anybody Out There?
Last year I noted :
A young woman living on the streets is struggling with an sensory overload – is it synesthesia, or a sixth sense? As her symptoms become much worse and she is hospitalised she realises there is a reason out there for what is happening in hear head.
Alexander Jablokov. Blind Cat Dance.
Originally in : Asimovs, March 2010
Last year I noted :
In the editorial introduction, Jablokov explains his relative absence from short fiction in the last decade due to family and career calling on his times. tsk tsk. Priorities, Mr. Jablokov, Priorities.
Here he provides an unsettling view of the near future, where humanity has tweaked the perceptions of animals to ‘enable’ them to living in urban settings, but with all apsects of that urban life removed from their perception, leaving them believing themselves to be living in the wild. We follow one cougar as it cagily explores territory marked out by another male, all this done in blissful ignorance of the landscape it is inhabiting is one of cafes and humans engaged in leisure activites.
And there is another, largely unnoticed, male ritual going on, as one male, observing a quartet of other people, is trying to put himself into a position to be the putative mate of one of the females, who is currently partnered with his employer.
The most unsettling element of the story is the view of the work of the observer, in one of his roles of looking after a pig farm – except that the pigs themselves have been horribly genetically tweaked to be little more than nonsentient pork factories.
The closing scenes, set in a now abandoned urban landscape, with nature gradually returning, rounds off an unsettling view of how it is possible to be blind to what is happening around us.
Aliette de Bodard. The Shipmaker.
Originally in : Interzone 231.
Last year I wrote:
Set in AdeB’s ‘Xuya’ continuity, here she takes a look at the uploaded spaceship-mind trope with her Eastern/Aztec worldview.
A ship is being created in space, and rather than being a thing of plans, mechanics and metals, the creation is very much in the ancient mode of jade carving, with painstaking attention to details, to the flows of the elements, and so forth. To complicate matters, the shipmaker has made choices in her life that have disconnected from her family and potentially from her ancesteors; and, worse still, the ship mind is due to arrive very much ahead of schedule, leaving her with the challenge of creating the ship in a race against the clock.
It’s far more than a ‘can she do it in time’ story, with a welcoming non-western/eurocentric, non-male perspective.
Ted Kosmatka. In-Fall.
Originally in : Lightspeed Magazine, December 2010.
Not yet read.
Jim Hawkins. Chimbwi.
Originally in : Interzone 227.
Last year I wrote:
Ecological, political and societal upheavel has left Europe and the USA devastated. However, Africa is a continent reborn, cheap energy at their fingertips.
A physicist has fled England, leaving desperate memories behind, a refugee with little hope. However, his skills are recognised, and he has the opportunity to become part of the land which is now his home, but only if he can confront that land, and its dangers, in a trial – naked save for a couple of hand-crafted weapons, he must face his fears and the creatures of the plains.
The background, and backstory are the highpoints of the story, the climax in which he takes on the tribal challenge to become one with the people with whom he now lives (and in which he is aided by a laser-toting colleague) doesn’t quite do justice to that which has gone before.
Robert Reed. Dead Man’s Run.
Originally : Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2010.
Last year I wrote:
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m somewhat less appreciative, as a rule, of Reed’s stories which draw primarily on his daily life, than those in which he gives full sfnal rein to his imagination.
This is a very lengthy look at running – something he has looked at previously. There is a strong sfnal element – a running club whose coach is murdered, have both a Prime Suspect (a fellow runner) and the uploaded backup of their coach available to help them (including through their bluetooth cell phone earpieces).
Having been a runner myself back in the day (ruining two knees in the process), I was able to engage with a lot of the detail in the story about running. But, truth be told, somewhat like a marathon running hitting the infamous wall at about 23 miles, I found myself running low on energy at about halfway, and found myself slowing down. There’s an extended chase sequence in the middle of the story, which rings absolutely true, but felt overlong for me. (Not quite up to the dramatic tension in the novel Marathon Man, which features a taut sequence where the protagonist, having had the dental treatment!, draws the lest vestiges of his strength and his strategy, to outrun the goons with guns).
And I pulled up before the end, deciding that there was no real reason to persevere, and several good reasons to bale out (like being able to start the Richard Bowes story that was next in the issue).
I’ve yet to read all the stories that I didn’t read on their original publication. But, having said that, there are a substantial number of stories from Asimovs, F&SF, Interzone and a couple of last year’s best anthologies that I did read, and those sources (fortunately) give good SF, so there’s a whole heap of quality that I can vouchsafe for. And there’s a couple of stories that I’m going to prioritise reading, to fill in the gaps and make this a complete review.