Asimov's Science Fiction

March 2006

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 30, No. 3
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 144

The non-fiction bits this month were interesting enough to be worth a comment. I usually find Sheila Williams's editorials rather pedestrian, but this month she explained the point of sudoku and some of its history. Since I was probably the last person on earth who hadn't heard the explanation, I appreciated that. Silverberg talks about life on Earth that lives in extreme conditions — mostly details I've heard before, but he expresses them well. Joe Lazzaro provides an update on current space flight initiatives, and Paul Di Filippo provides a satisfyingly long set of book reviews.

The stories were on the good side of average. Several grabbed my attention in different ways, but none of them were entirely satisfying.

"The Gabble" by Neal Asher: A follow-on of sorts from Asher's previous story "Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck", this one dives a bit deeper into the origin of the apparently sentient but incomprehensible gabbleduck as it follows two anthropologists exploring a world of bizarre creatures. The drama comes from the puzzles more than much plot action and characterization outside of the puzzle of the story felt desultory to me. The climax has some drama but doesn't really answer questions, and takes matters towards an explanation that I personally find unsatisfying. Overall, not bad, but a bit of an eh. (6)

"46 Directions, None of Them North" by Deborah Coates: A teenage girl wants to go to Alaska because that's where the aliens are landing. She knows that theoretically from messages on her cell phone, but mostly because she believes. This story is rather silly, trying perhaps too hard for a tone of breathless teenage drama. What I did like, though, was the dynamic between the protagonist, her father, and finally her mother. Her father dropped out of the corporate life and is her idol, but he won't take her to Alaska. It's only when she manages to reach a part of her mother that's both like and completely unlike her father that the story reaches an emotional connection. I didn't like that the protagonist never seemed to understand what was going on, but the final emotional twist gained more depth the more I thought about it. (6)

"Dark Eden" by Chris Beckett: I liked the setup here: a space program based on random jumps to try to find life, so far unsuccessful, and a good set of characters with competing motives and of types not often seen in this sort of story (a Christian crusader, a promiscuous womanizer, and a black female cop). Unfortunately, the plot dies halfway through, the background all but disappearing and turning the story into a pure character dynamic between the womanizer and the black female cop. Both are decent characters; neither are sufficiently powerful to keep the story interesting when they hold the stage alone. By the end, I thought the story lost all purpose and direction. (5)

"Rwanda" by Robert Reed: Second person present is at best a challenging voice in which to write a story, particularly when the reader is being put in the position of a small child, and I'm not sure it worked here. Still, it does fit Reed's desire to have a character explain the world to the reader, and I'm not sure the sting in the tail of this story could have been handled another way. "Rwanda" tries to immerse the reader in minute observations of the world and then twist emotions as the specter of war and genocide is slowly introduced; it's not ineffective, but I found the viewpoint frustrating and at times forced. I'm not sure the ambiguity in the ending explanation was intentional or just a side effect of the position from which the reader has to hear the story. Memorable, but not entirely successful. (6)

"Dead Men Walking" by Paul J. McAuley: This is an odd story; it feels like part of some larger whole (and it is part of a larger story sequence) and seemed incomplete on its own. The plot takes a lot from spy novels and reaches a clear conclusion: an assassin who escaped his handlers and struck out to live a normal life tries to track down the murderer who is in danger of exposing him. But without any additional background, I felt like the story was mostly exposition and I never felt like the protagonist was placed in the larger world. The story doesn't lack emotional subtext, but I think I needed to see his background in more than just an infodump to feel the intended emotional punch of the climax. (6)

"Companion to Owls" by Chris Roberson: I adored this background. The protagonist cleans ghosts off the roof of a giant cathedral, one large enough that people spend their entire lives on the roof, in the middle sections, or in the basement. There are some particularly persistant ghosts in the steeple for which he's responsible, so he has to escort a necromancer who can perform the stronger sort of banishing. The plot itself didn't do much for me and the conclusion was a bit too predictable, but I'd love to see more in this world, particularly a story that digs deeper into its history, politics, and dynamics. (7)

"The Kewlest Thing of All" by David Ira Cleary: Set in a San Francisco marked by sea rise, largely floating on pontoons in the ocean, this story is apparently about the conflict between a corporate-driven identity and a choice of identity driven by whatever is aesthetically cool. Body modification in the form of implants that display patterns like screens are ubiquitous, as are deeper forms of genetic modification, apparently including some sinister forms that tie people to particular corporations. The story starts as an anti-establishment rebellion, but driven by a surprisingly dictatorial counter-establishment; by the end of the story, one despairs of any real escape from the consumerism and consumption that seems to be driving everything, even "kewl." Inbetween, the story jerks and jumps erratically, leaving me unsure what it was saying and what the reader is expected to make of the rather pathetic protagonist and her efforts at recruitment to kewl. I'm not sure what to make of the ending; I think there's a sharp, cynical observation about the futility of counter-culture movements lurking there, but I didn't get enough help from the author to fully unpack it. Interesting, but mostly frustrating. (6)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-07-29

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