Asimovs, September 2008

William Barton. In the Age of the Quiet Sun.

Good to see another story from Barton – w-a-y too long since I’ve read one from him. What appeals to me is that he often looks at the costs to the individual of humanity getting out into space, and here he does this in spades.

The setup is an intriguing one, as through Mr. Zed, pilot of the Anabasis, a somewhat elderly AndrewsSpace Model A mk.IX staged Z-pinch fusion-initiated nuclear fission drive scoutship, Ylva an organic AI system, and fellow crewmember Jenny we find out just what sacrifices have been made. Mr. Zed and Jenny, to survive the horrendous radiation, are genmod to have very, very thick skin, with lots of external features (if you get my drift) removed. Worse though, is Ylva, an AI integrated into the remains of a human nervous system – with a lot of the original biological element still present.

Futhermore, Mr. Zed is travelling incognito, as we learn of the price he has had to pay to the big corporations as one of the two men who set up AndrewsSpace, but who were ruthlessly removed. The politics, and the backstory, give the story a richness, and the story itself, in which the small vessel comes across an altogether higher-tech tech than we humans have, is only marginally less successful. The description of the alien they find, the bemused and horrified expression frozen on its face for millenia in its bolt-hole on an asteroid, sticks in the mind, but the minor quibble is the speed at which the story progresses, with Mr. Zed able to use the newfound tech to restore his position (and also his genitalia)

Robert. R. Chase. Solider of the Singularity.

A dialogue between a doctor, and a ‘robot’ soldier from the Singularity, with whom humanity is at war. The doctor helpfully views a video running through robots through history (the turbaned mannequin, Metroplos, Robbie the Robot, R2D2 and C3PO etc) for those of you not up on your sfnal history. Through their conversation we find out the horror of what the Singularity has been doing – co-opting unwilling humans, and turning them into cyborgs working for the otherwise virtual Singularity. Having explained all, we find out at the end that the doctor is cleverly interrogating the robot to find out if enough of the original human remains to be rescued – as is the case, and the ‘robot’ can be returned to its human origins.

It all runs through too quickly – some interesting ideas are contained in the ‘story’, but it doesn’t quite have the depth or subtlety needed to make it a top quality story.

Mary Rosenblum. Horse Racing.

A clever little story in which a young man finds out that his suspicions that his passage through life has been facilitated by person or persons, or forces, unknown, are well founded. He meets the man who has been subtly manouvering erstwhile obstructions out of his life path, and the reasons for this. Not really a whole lot of SF though.

Ian Creasey. Cut Loose the Bonds of Flesh and Bone.

An adult daughter sits by her mother’s bed, her death bed, as she comes to the end of her terminal decline. It’s not a peaceful passing, as the feisty Scottish lady isn’t going quietly. Not only is her daughter having to put up with continual reminders of her failings as perceived by her mother, but the grumpy gran is going through the final stages of having her brain uploaded to that she can remain a virtual presence in her daughter’s, and her grandchildren’s lives. The thought of having the hard to please mother in the house 24/7, an in multiple instances, is something the daughter dreads. Fortunately the old lady hasn’t had the foresight to get her daughter to sign on the dotted line, and when her mother does die, the daughter fortunately is assertive enough to stand up to the doctors wanting her signature in order to complete the upload.

It’s a little mawkish and lacking a little subtlety.

Steven Utley. Slug Hell.

Another in the Silurian Tales sequence. Trees continue to die to furnish the paper on which these stories are printed. Hmmm.

Will McIntosh. Midnight Blue.

A world similar to ours with the exception that there are strange spheres that can be found which, when absorbed, give one of a wide and varied range of powers to the finder. Kids are keen to find them (shades of Pokemon/YuGiOh card collections), but they are few and far between, with the previous generations having been profligate with these scarce resources.

The young protagonist finds a rare sphere – a very, very rare sphere, and his life is turned inside-out and upside-down, as this find is even more valuable than the gold invite in a Wonka Bar. Cue a very wealthy collector, who flies in (literally) to offer Big Money to the youngster, who has to choose between absorbing the sphere himself, and finding out what power will result, or take the money. Being that he lives with his single mom, in financial straits, there is no real choice, and it turns out for the best, as the sphere is one that summons a veritable torrent of new spheres to the world.

Phew – I’m just glad that in this world there aren’t any scarce resources that our kids can upbraid us for being profligate with.

Derek Zumsteg. Usurpers.

Looks at the lengths to which athletes could go to reach the finishing line first through the manic eyes of a runner.

Stephen Baxter. The Ice War.

Brian Stableford has had three lengthy historical SF stories in Asimovs of late, and here Baxter has fun with an icy equivalent of Wells War of the Worlds, with no lesser figures than Isaac Newton, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift and one Jack Hobbes having their beliefs, and their knowledge of science, stretched by an alien invasion. I have to own up to my knowledge of Newton, Defoe and Swift being fairly minimal, and am sure that Baxter had greater fun in putting characters he knew about into this situation to see how they react, than many readers will have in the reading.

It’s well written, and the icy threat of the alien invaders is interesting, evidently covered in Baxter’s 1993 novel ‘Anti Ice’, which was his first major attempt at Alternate History. There’s a substantial part of the story online on the Asimovs website – have a gander :


Another strong issue.

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