Asimov's Science Fiction

July 2006

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 30, No. 7
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 144

The anticipated highlight of this issue was another Ian McDonald story set in the world of River of Gods, and it doesn't disappoint. Apart from it, the adjective that comes to mind for this issue is quirky, although several of the stories used a quirky background to tell a quite standard story. The non-fictional portions include a typically enjoyable Silverberg piece, a moderatedly interesting inside look at the running of the Science Fiction Museum, and a satisfyingly long review of recent British books by Paul Di Filippo.

"Nano Comes to Clifford Falls" by Nancy Kress: A struggling single mother copes with the invention of nanotech machines that can make anything that anyone wants and the resulting societal collapse when everyone can get what they want for free. Similar to the problems I had with the later books of Kress's Beggars series, I find her economic extrapolations unconvincing. The problem statement was too simplistic and somehow the economic system completely failed to adjust to it (even apart from the question of whether she got human nature right). I liked the practical voice of the first-person narrator who is far more concerned with her children than the wonders of nanotech. The story, though, devolves into libertarian Luddite fantasyland where hard work and technology strike the perfect balance and characters learn to be Heinlein heroes. Bleh. (5)

"You Will Go to the Moon" by William Preston: Good grief, this was depressing. The narrator's elderly parents decide to go to a retirement community on the moon, when he wasn't particularly happy with them being as far away as Arizona. Once there, the happy marketing of those communities turns out to have some dark sides and health effects, his mother is desperately unhappy, his father develops mental problems, and there's a nasty punch line of enforced distance. Preston captures here both some of the SF depression at realizing that space colonization isn't horribly realistic and the feeling of one's parents getting farther and farther away as they get older, suffering problems one cannot help with. For that, it's emotionally effective, but I didn't really want to read about it. (4)

"The World and Alice" by L. Timmel Duchamp: I usually both like and am perplexed by Duchamp's short fiction, and this is no exception. It's the story of a woman who isn't entirely attached to the world, a woman who doesn't feel like she belongs and who orbits around grounded personalities to keep from drifting away or into some other fractured world. I really liked the way the psychology of this was handled; I couldn't tell you exactly how this made sense to me, but it struck some emotional chord. The strangeness of meeting herself at various points in her life almost worked. The ending, however, didn't wrap matters up or give me the hook I was looking for to understand the rest of the story, so I came away feeling mostly baffled. (6)

"Bitterseed" by Ted Kosmatka: This was a fairly straightforward family revenge and forgiveness story with a predictable ending, made unique by an extended survival episode in an automatically processed corn field. Kosmatka does a good job with setting; I just didn't care enough about learning what corn fields feel like. I expect this will appeal to readers who like this sort of survival story more than I. (5)

"Impossible Dreams" by Tim Pratt: The plot was so sweet and romantic that it's almost embarassing to admit it, but I loved this story. A movie buff finds a rental store he's never seen before on his way home, and when he goes in, he finds it's full of the movies that were never made or long-ago lost in our world. When he tries to rent some, the female clerk doesn't recognize his credit card. Then the money is different, and the DVD formatting, and the store only appears for short periods of time each night and the length of time is shrinking. He gets more and more desperate to see the movies before he loses his chance, and in the process ends up falling in love with the clerk. The story concludes in a predictable twist, but the happy ending just worked for me. (8)

"Snail Stones" by Paul Melko: There's a lot of writing here in the service of not much plot. The native inhabitants of a colonized planet can produce gems from their snail-like shells. Some kids discover that someone has one captive. They rescue it predictably. The end. I suppose it's not bad, as light-weight kid adventure stories go, but there's no ambiguity and the tension is undermined by the lack of surprises. (5)

"Fireflies" by Kathe Koja: Another rather depressing story, this is an extremely short musing on death and immortality told in a somewhat confusing style without quotation marks or names. The emotion is effective when the style doesn't get in the way, but I didn't come away feeling that the story said much new. Still, not bad. (6)

"The Djinn's Wife" by Ian McDonald: Like last year's "The Little Goddess", this is a novella set in the same world as McDonald's River of Gods. It's not quite as good as "The Little Goddess," but it has the same rich description, wonderful setting, and fascinating blend of characters, emotions, and technology that "The Little Goddess" did. A dancer falls in love with an aeai, one of the powerful AIs who are shaping Indian politics and who are about to be hunted and limited to comply with international treaties. She's young and impulsive and the love affair is wild, passionate, and intriguing in the ways that McDonald finds for her to live her life with a being who isn't physically real. I was frustrated with her by the end of the story, but that's because my loyalties collided with her culture and fears, quite realistically. McDonald is extremely good at this; his ability to create palpable, compelling worlds is a cut above. (8)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-10-07

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