Asimov's Science Fiction

April/May 2006

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 30, No. 4 & 5
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 240

Most of the non-story content of this double issue was undistinguished (or boring; I'm afraid I just don't care about electronic music), but there's a books column by Norman Spinrad that's as excellent as always. I like how he does far more than just review the books; he talks about general themes and trends and says some thought-provoking things.

The stories in this issue are definitely a cut above. There are several strong stories, including both of the long novellas, and none that lost me completely. An excellent way to fill a double issue.

"Inclination" by William Shunn: This is a coming of age story, one of several in this issue, focusing on a teenage member of a closed religious living in their own region of a space station. This group reveres the six simple machines and tries to stay apart from the culture of human enhancement, AIs, and other advanced technology of the rest of the station. The story starts in their enclosed world and then slowly broadens its view into the rest of the station, showing the complex reactions of the protagonist and uncovering bits of his past.

Many of the cultural conflicts are obvious and expected, as are the targets of social commentary. The religion is clearly fundamentalist and never comes off in a good light. The reason for keeping its adherents on the station is a nasty bit of practical cynicism. But while the broad strokes aren't that subtle, the fine detail is quite well-handled. Jude is a very sympathetic protagonist and the outsiders who befriend him avoid many of the stereotypes of this sort of story and have their own lives and concerns. Jude's religion is, believably, not a big deal to the rest of the station, and they even feel protective of his innocence. That was a nice touch. The revelations of the ending provided a nice emotional climax. (7)

"Heisenberg Elementary" by Wil McCarthy: A strange, surrealistic story about a future world in which humans are infected by computer-like viruses and time travellers struggle to edit each other out of the timeline. Mostly, it's a bunch of crazy ideas and sight gags strung together without much that one could call a plot. Mildly diverting. (6)

"The Final Flight of the Blue Bee" by James Maxey: There are rather a lot of deconstructions of superheros out there now, but the idea is still interesting (at least to me). What if the reality of character reactions was turned up a few levels in a world where there are superheroes? How would they interact with the legal system, and how would the sidekick really feel about his mentor? This is another one of those, less thoughtful than some, with plenty of action and a bit of focus on the kind of nasty aspect of powers that tended not to show up in comics. Think Incredibles, but not funny and not as good. (6)

"Datacide" by Steve Bein: This is another theme that I've seen a few times before: if we do manage to create an AI that's faster and smarter than people and it ends up essentially in control of the world, what should we do about it? Richard plans to destroy it, with the help of a James Bond setup and infiltration of a lab, but the core of the story is the debate between him and the computer. The computer may or may not be dangerous. Destroying it may or may not be murder. This is territory that's been covered before, and I didn't feel like this story offered much new. (5)

"Except the Music" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: I wasn't sure at first what to make of this story about an Oregon classical music festival and the reactions of a pianist to performing for the audience, attending the festival of his mentor, and dealing with his mentor's failing health. At the start, this is a quiet but slowly compelling character study without any genre touches, and even when the genre influence comes, it's light and only lights the edges of the story. It's a perfect note, though, and leads to a wonderful realignment of not only the story but the life of the protagonist. Slow moving but intriguing and deeply affecting in the end, this was one of my favorite stories of the issue. (8)

"Hanosz Prime Goes to Old Earth" by Robert Silverberg: This is the story of the "marriage" of two far-future humans who have since diverged far from what we would recognize. And... that's about it. The rest of the story is elaborations around how far into the future it is, how much history has passed, how different humans are, and how their interactions are scarcely recognizable, all told in a somewhat overblown story. I didn't see the point. (4)

"The Age of Ice" by Liz Williams: I felt this was taken out of the middle of a larger story and didn't have enough of its own identity to survive the separation. There's a clear plot, following an infiltrator in enemy territory who encounters a strange armored warrior. The revelation of who the warrior is was rather neat; the rest is bits of background that have no direct bearing on the story and surface action that lacks much deeper meaning. (5)

"Home Movies" by Mary Rosenblum: I liked the premise of this one quite a bit. A method has been developed to capture and record all of the sensory input of a person, and then transfer it to someone else. That's created a market for chameleons, people who experience events for other people (called chameleons because they have to blend in socially as the stand-in for someone who belongs) and who then give those sense memories back and lose them. The protagonist is just such a chameleon, with many holes in her life from various contracts and memories that are gone except for faint resonances.

The twist in this contract was fairly obvious to me from the start, and it does feature a rather typical love affair (people don't always fall in love as soon as they're put in a hazardous situation alone together), but the way the basic idea plays out is quite satisfying. The ending is honest to the world but manages a bittersweet happiness. (7)

"The Osteomancer's Son" by Greg van Eekhout: Van Eekhout creates a creepy and memorable world in this story of bone magic, a world populated with legendary creatures and their skeletons, where power comes from having the largest natural history museum. There isn't much subtlety to the story and I found the climatic battle almost embarassingly stock, but the world gives a tale of revenge and escape an unusual visceral feel. (6)

"Not Worth a Cent" by R. Neube: I suppose one possible outcome of a world with increasing lifespans and the failure of social security is a world full of elderly people in good health banding together for their own mutual protection, and occasionally kicking some ass. It may be improbable, but that doesn't slow this story down. There's medicine to be stolen from a local depository. The appeal of the story is entirely William, the sarcastic protagonist who has never gotten rejuvination and who is the enforcer of his group. A romp with no deeper meaning but some amusing character. (6)

"The King's Tail" by Constance Cooper: Two intelligent species, neither human, are fighting for space and resources. The larger, stronger, and more dangerous are strict pacifists, and therefore have been subjugated by the smaller and more vicious, who hold their king and humiliate him by letting him attempt escape. It took a bit for this story to click with me, but by the end I liked the philosophy. The happy ending is a bit too pat, though; pacifism is riskier than that and needs a deeper and harder look. (6)

"The Walls of the Universe" by Paul Melko: A farm boy one day encounters himself, another version of himself from a different universe. His other self has a device that lets him travel between universes; he's also quite a bit more worldly, cynical, and manipulative. This story is told from both their perspectives, intermixed, as the traveller tries to get a life he never had and the native John sees what life for his other self was like. The strongest part of the story is the view on John's personality from two different angles and two very different upbringings. At first, the characters are very different, but then as they experience each other's worlds, they start to converge, but never quite do. The technology here is pure plot device for a good character story. (7)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-08-26

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