Asimov's Science Fiction

June 2005

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 29, No. 6
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 144

This is the best single magazine issue I've read so far. It features solid (or better) stories from several of the best short story authors SF has to offer right now, a good book review column from Peter Heck, and an interesting (if occasionally indulgent) essay from Cory Doctorow on Kurzweil's way-out ideas. This is the first magazine issue I've read that I think might be worth seeking out on its own.

"The Edge of Nowhere" by James Patrick Kelly: Where do people go when they die? In this world, they go to a small town called Nowhere, where all their needs are provided for and they can live on, doing whatever it is that they want to do. This seems to be part of a larger world of ideas, but anyone leaving the town is never heard from again. When agents of the surrounding cognisphere come looking for a book that one of the inhabitants is writing, this becomes a story about creativity, originality, and taking risks. Charming, interesting, and thoughtful. (7)

"The Ice-Cream Man" by James Van Pelt: In a post-apocalyptic world where the inhabitants are mostly supported by scavanging in the rubble of the ruined civilization around them, a man continues to drive an ice-cream truck, trading cones for goods and supplies. What starts as an almost surrealistic setting concept becomes a fascinating twist on pied piper legends and a defense of humanism against the fear of other. Good ending. (8)

"Martyrs' Carnival" by Jay Lake: I wanted to like this story about cult religious practices in a future colony on a desert world, but when the utterly disagreeable religion ended up being right by authorial decree, I lost interest. In the end, there were no characters I could side with. (5)

"Bad Machine" by Kage Baker: What happens when you manage to break all the failsafes on your companion AI as a child and let it grow along with you? You end up with a pirate guardian angel who can do almost anything for you in a heavily computer-controlled world. Add in some uncanny powers of persuasion and you get confused adolescence crossed with some creative computer protection and a difficult ending. Baker doesn't take the ideas very far, but the characterization of the AI is a lot of fun. (7)

"Rainmakers" by Ruth Nestvold: This story reminded me strongly of Nicola Griffith's excellent Ammonite. An outside negotiator comes in to try to resolve a conflict with a native population on a colony world and ends up going native, understanding their nature-driven world view far more deeply than she expected. This isn't as good (or obviously as deep) of a story as Ammonite, and the process of going native is too abrupt and matter-of-fact, without enough justification in the rules of the story. I needed more of a hook to get into the world, but still, interesting. (6)

"The Little Goddess" by Ian McDonald: This is a fantastic story. Set in the same world as McDonald's recent River of Gods (and really whetting my appetite for that novel), it follows the life of a girl who is chosen as the embodiment of the goddess Taleju. McDonald paints a vivid picture of life as the Royal Kumari and of the faint connection to the outside world through a banned network connection. He then follows her through the loss of her status, into a quest for a husband as a normal girl, and then into becoming an AI smuggler. The language is rich and beautiful, the descriptions gorgeous, and the sense of place engrossing. Add a beautiful ending and you get one of the best short stories I've read. Highly recommended. (9)

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-09-06

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