Asimov's Science Fiction

October/November 2005

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 29, No. 10 & 11
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 240

This is partly a Halloween issue, with several darker fantasy stories, although they're mixed in with some very traditional SF. It was a rather even issue in quality, with no stand-outs that particularly excited me but few bad stories too.

Norman Spinrad's book column is excellent as always, and offers a very interesting analysis of the New Weird movement. Robert Silverberg's column maintains his normal high quality. Rudy Rucker's mathematical speculation is a bit more hit or miss; he raises some entertaining notions, but I don't think they hang together very well. It isn't particularly surprising that he's a huge fan of Stephen Wolfram.

"Memory Work" by L. Timmel Duchamp: This story opens with the memory of a breakdown in society and a sort of mass insanity, and an apparent survivor recounting the memory to a computer and trying to understand where she ended up, what she's doing there, and what the computer wants. The storytelling technique is intriguing and hooked me, despite some unevenness in the description of the memories themselves. I ended up emotionally on the side of the protagonist, wanting her to hold her own against the demand for more memories. Unfortunately, the payoff at the end of the story didn't work for me; it felt like a wimper that didn't live up to the power of the setup. (6)

"Nightmare" by M. Bennardo: A story about a zoo trip in a world where ghosts can be captured and caged, building up to an encounter with a wraith. The moral, about confronting fear and being strong for others instead of oneself, is obvious but not badly handled. A little lightweight in impact for me, but the characterization seemed true to life and the image of the ghost zoo is memorable. (6)

"Out of the Box" by Steve Martinez: A creepy story about brain modifications in children for teleoperation in a post-apocalyptic world where nearly all industrial activity is done remotely. Experimental modifications leave the son of the narrator's unconscious self wandering through robotic toys when he sleeps, leading to a confrontation between the father and his young son's id. The story mostly rests on the strength of the banter, which frankly isn't very good. The resolution is amusing but has a different tone from the rest of the story, leaving the horror aspects of the early story feeling stupid. (5)

"The God Engine" by Ted Kosmatka: This is a very good cloning story. A famous scientist was on the verge of solving the problem of faster than light travel, but didn't quite finish the work, sparking the creation and development of a series of clones. The narrator is the scientist in charge of the project and a father figure to the clones, and the story is told in the second person, addressed to the last of the series. Not ground-breaking, but very emotionally effective. (7)

"Pericles the Tyrant" by Lois Tilton: I don't think I was in the target audience for this story. It's one of those alternate history stories whose plot is mostly a reason to lead the reader through the differences, and which is mostly fun when one is spotting the differences. I don't know enough about ancient Greek history to play that game well, and the surface story failed to engage. Too much detail that was meaningless to me. The ending is a nice political statement around the power of art, but the rest of the story didn't work for me. (5)

"Overlay" by Jack Skillingstead: Another creepy story about people who rent out their bodies to others who can use them for fantasies. This one, though, never develops much of a plot line and felt like little more than an introduction to the concept. It's an ugly, dirty-feeling idea, but that isn't enough to carry a story. (4)

"Back to Moab" by Philip C. Jennings: In search of an artifact, an old globe that shows a world very different than ours, the narrator stumbles across a hidden passage to another parallel world. The setup worked well, mixing an engaging viewpoint character with a nice bit of intrigue and a hilarious way of putting together a mission to an unknown world. Unfortunately, the actual exploration is not particularly satisfying, nor does it reach much of a conclusion, leaving an ending that feels like a fizzle. Still, we could use more adventure stories with a good sense of humor. (6)

"Dark Flowers, Inverse Moon" by Jay Lake: The constant Capitalization of the Skill is overly precious and annoying, but otherwise this is a good modern fantasy story about a pagan-derived magical system with touches of voodoo. The plot is a fairly straightforward adventure, with the injured hero rediscovering her power and friendship in time to put right a wrong and save the world, but it's an adventure featuring fairly good characters and a fun magical system. The rediscovery of power makes a good stand-in for the coming of age story. (7)

"Betting on Eureka" by Geoffrey A. Landis: A fairly standard hard SF story about lawless asteroid mining and gaming the system. Nothing that memorable, but the ending has an amusing sting that kept its power even though I was half-expecting it. I like intrigue stories that hint at more twists and levels than they actually show, provided they're not so opaque as to be incomprehensible. (7)

"Cruel Sistah" by Nisi Shawl: Basically a horror story about fratricide, haunting, and the individual perceptions of the family affected. It felt pointless to me. (3)

"Bank Run" by Tom Purdom: This novella is the centerpiece of the double-issue, and while it doesn't provide anything special, it's a reliable, quality hard SF story about personal warfare, political struggles, and manufactured servants on a colonized world. Most of the story is a tense chase scene through an alien forest on elephant-back, featuring energy versus feed time tradeoffs for the elephants and a running skirmish between remote-controlled cats. That should give you a good idea of the feel. The protagonist has a personal assistant who was manufactured by genetic manipulation and emotional imprinting specifically for him, but he's fallen in love with her, providing some emotional subtext to the story. The style of the story is rather matter-of-fact and not particularly inspired, but it kept me interested all the way through. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-02-12

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