Asimovs. January 2014.


Nice cover from Gromovataya/ – what about the fiction?

Aliette de Bodard. Memorials.

Part of de Bodard’s ‘Xuya’ series of stories, although one not part of the excellent recent spaceship-set stories, but ‘also somewhere in the 22nd Century but in another corner of space altogether’ according to her timeline.

The story revolves around Cam, a young girl struggling with the pressures of familial piety amongst her community who who have fled from a terrible pogrom, a lover who is pregnant, and a ‘job’ the she hates but sees not way out of. She is perhaps guilty of betrayal of her elders, appropriating memory chips of aged ones who choose not to upload, but selling on those memories for profit. There is the usual mannered exchanges between generations, bot real and virtual, but a policewoman who is suddenly on to her causes Cam to review her options, and she finds out that she wasn’t on top of things quite as well as she should be.

Hopefully there’ll be more in this timeline, and I’ll remember enough about it when it comes by! Nice BTW to have a story with purely female characters, thus avoiding any need to have plot driven by hairy-arsed testosterone!

Ian McHugh. Extracted Journal Notes for an Ethnography of Bnebene Nomad Culture.

I’m not a big fan of xeno-ethnographic or xeno-lingual stories, as I find I can’t really take seriously dialogue like “Gunnug, you must be circumspect in your dealings with big-brother-fraction. Big-brother-subfractions are the simplest of the bnebene and easily upset. The struggle to grasp that a gunnug person may have only one body.”

McHugh also lists a table of different chromosomatic structures for what turns out to be nine different ‘genders’ in his alien race, which is a bit too much data for me. It’s a shame as I quite like his alien creatures and their reproductive and child-rearing practices – more tree-like than animal-like. But the use of an ‘ansible’ to make human/Bnebene conversation fairly straightforward isn’t a help. And the human researcher’s reference to text, audio and video messages, and computer tablets was just to close to 2014 technology – well, Google Glass would seem ahead of the tech available to the researcher in this story.

And worserer still – the scientists likens the jerky motion of those she is observing as being like ‘watching poorly made stop-motion animation’. Surely, several centuries hence, stop-motion animation will be a thing known only to historians of animation?? If you’re going to write SF, try putting yourself in the mindset of someone centuries hence and think of something relevant to the protagonist, not something relevant to the writer and the reader!

Which is a shame, as the race McHugh has created, and brief human/human interaction highlighting human attitudes to the ‘aliens’ could have been used in a way that this reader would have preferred, eschewing the tried and trusted trop of the research having a conceptual breakthrough about the species’ societal structures and beliefs.

William Jablonksy. Static

A first story in Asimovs for Jablonksy, and hopefully there will be more.

It’s a great little story. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it handles a chain of alternate/alternative futures well, seeing it through the lens of a couple with a young baby.

NASA is investigating an anomoly in Earth orbit, and the advice to humans is to disconnect all equipment prone to damage from an electromagnetic pulse surge, and to await the results. There’s a worry that the world may end, and an already strained relationship between the two is exacerbated by the threat of what may happens.

Of course, the world doesn’t end, but the pair (as everyone else) are subjected to glimpses of future possibilities, and alternative pasts, through telephones from loved ones – including from their currently infant son, who makes several calls from the future.

Nothing resolved, nothing explained, but none the worse for that.

Ron Collins. Primes.

Collins uses prime numbers to run as a thread throughout a clever multi-character story. At first the various characters appear to be unlinked, but then the threads are drawn together in a story that could equally be placed in a horror or crime magazine.

The main protagonist is one Jersey Jones, a young guy working in the tech field who works out how he can intercept and programme the advertising and related neural feeds into people – something allowed for advertisers at only a low level. With one young woman auto-defenestrated due to him not quite fine tuning his programming, a number of characters come together in a story that for reminded me of the Coen brothers films Barton Fink/Blood Simple, and The Matrix. And that’s a good thing!

Steve Rasnic Tem. The Carl Paradox.

An early twenties no-account version of Carl is surprised to find a version of himself from two decades in the future on his doorstep. His future self has come back in time to warn him of his actions. If this wasn’t bad enough, another Carl turns up. And another. And another. You get the idea…

A lightweight course to cleanse the palate during a multi-course repast.

Nancy Kress. The Common Good.

A disappointing story from Kress. It’s a YA story with a teenage protagonist, and it fairly breezes through in traditional YA style. Not only is young Zed (incorrectly called Zack in one paragraph!) a teen and therefore in need of having a lot of stuff spelt out to him, but he’s from the backwoods, so is even less aware of what is happening, so the reader of the story can have everything laid out quite simply.

What is happening is potentially interesting, but not ground-breaking. Aliens have invaded Earth and are living in domes (some 40 years since I read John Christopher’s tripods trilogy with this setup!). That invasion was supported by them turning up in orbit and removing all of humanity’s major urban capitals (with an ability to do so at the click of a virtual finger – the YA story enables things like this to happen without any question). And the crux of the story is an ethical dilemma, which is clearly spelt out – the aliens say they did this to save humanity from itself (due to climate change and overpopulation). So what this suffering of a lot of people worth it for the greater good of humanity as a whole.

And young Zack, as is oft the case, is a special young man, and is able to ‘far-see’ which enables him to solve some conundrums, and set humanity free from the yoke of its oppressors. For better or worse.

So if you’re a teacher of 12/13 year olds and want a story for them to read to address issues of climate change, then this is the story for you. But I wouldn’t personally see it as a story for Asimovs.

Interestingly this story is by way of a follow-up to ‘A Kindness of Strangers’ in Lou Anders’ ‘Fast Forward 2′ from 2008 (review here), which I noted was ‘Classic Kress’. Now that story had an adult protagonist, and the quick summary I provided then suggests that story featured adult concerns and actions, rather than teen concerns and actions.

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