Asimov's Science Fiction

October/November 2006

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 30, No. 10 & 11
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 240

This is the fall double-sized issue, which among other things means that it has a Norman Spinrad book column, always something to look forward to. As he has before, he complains about a trend in SF publishing (pushing series over single novels) while writing detailed and interesting reviews of several books. He liked River of Gods better than I did, but his book review columns are always worth reading.

Of the other non-fiction, I liked James Patrick Kelly's discussion of web sites and Locus Online. This issue also had a much-appreciated letter column.

The fiction is, as it would have to be for this large of an issue, a mixed bag, but there are several good and thought-provoking stories here and a wide variety of ideas.

"A Billion Eves" by Robert Reed: A future society finds a way of travelling to alternate worlds, which is then abused by a man who kidnaps a sorority house of women into a new world with the intent of using them as a harem. He founds a new religion based on this practice, very reminiscent of certain fundamentalist religions. Several worlds down the line, a woman growing up in one of the derived societies fights with its expectations, beliefs, and abuse of the world to find another belief and set of goals.

This is the perfect antidote to nearly every story Orson Scott Card has written, a story about how parallel worlds would really interact with a patriarchal, fundamentalist faith. It is, in turns, disturbing, remarkably perceptive about how religions form and diversify within a doctrinal base, and realistic but still desperately hopeful. Even in a stifling and twisted ideology, people can still find their own lessons, interpretations, and ways of breaking free. (7)

"Biodad" by Kit Reed: More on the disturbing side, this is the story of a family reunion gone wrong after a woman tracks down her anonymous sperm doner. Good characterization, but not much of a plot apart from the disturbing twist in the end. I didn't get enough feeling of narrative flow to get into this one. (5)

"Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth" by Michael F. Flynn: A Seattle ferry disappears into a strange disturbance, taking all of its passengers with it. The families of those who went missing try to cope, the city and others investigate, and scientists attempt to develop theories as to what happened. In one of those unusual structures that one can only get away with in short fiction, there's no story in the sense of a narrative arc, just a set of reactions from different individuals (although moving forward in time so some of the investigation unfolds). There's no true conclusion, just a profile of how various people react to the disaster, written in very different styles. I found it surprisingly compelling reading, though (although I would have preferred more of an ending). (7)

"After I Stopped Screaming" by Pamela Sargent: Written with another unusual narrative style, this "story" is a short interview, late in her life, with the woman kidnapped by King Kong. It becomes a deconstruction of not only the movie but of the process and reactions of celebrity, as well as a parody of the sort of answers celebrities give in retrospective interviews. Not horribly memorable, but entertaining. (6)

"The Small Astral Object Genius" by James Van Pelt: I loved the idea of this story. We've invented a way to send small cameras to anywhere in the universe not close to the earth's star system, have them take a picture, and return instantly. This odd technology, full of limitations, is being used as a way of exploring the galaxy, and SETI-like is farmed out to hundreds of thousands of individuals all over the world for the price of a subscription and the hardware (and a lot of batteries). The protagonist is a kid from a troubled marriage who works at this search obsessively as a way of escaping the rest of his life. The ending involves a tenuous connection between this search and the boy's family life that felt artificial to me, which left me unsatisfied, but well worth reading for the idea. (6)

"1 Is True" by Ron Collins: Another good idea story suffering from a weak ending, this one starts with a corporate intrigue story featuring the remnants of a programming team who invented a way to program illusions using brain implants. I liked the way it started, drawing the protagonist back into the next, more dangerous version of the original idea and intermixed with memories of the woman who originally formed the marketing and contract part of the partnership. Characterization is excellent, particularly of the woman who never appears in the story and is only seen through memories and interactions. The ending was a let-down, though: the conclusion of the intrigue is too pat and the story of Yulani has a deeply unsatisfactory resolution. (6)

"The Seducer" by Carol Emshwiller: This is a borderline-horrific story of a seduction turning into a love story, mixed with a haunting of sorts with clear psychological overtones. The element of the supernatural may be entirely in the head of the protagonist and serves as a symbol for dealing with childhood trauma. It fits together, but I didn't find the completed puzzle that interesting, in part I think because I never felt much reason to care about the characters. (4)

"Saving for a Sunny Day, or, the Benefits of Reincarnation" by Ian Watson: The background here is that everyone in the world is reincarnated, and it can be proven via computer who they were previously. As a result, debts and assets now carry over into the next life, given out when someone reaches a certain age, and people either work hard their whole life to overcome debts from a previous life or live lives of luxury based on their own inheritence, replacing all normal inheritence methods. The world background is wryly humorous and well worked-out, and I liked the twist ending. More amusing than serious, but true to human nature. (7)

"Foster" by Melissa Lee Shaw: A grieving widow takes on caring for stray cats and discovers, as she tries to keep abandoned newborn kittens alive, that she's being haunted by ghosts of her old pets. The emotional dilemmas are drawn sharply and painfully, but the protagonist keeps making different decisions than I would have made and by the end of the story I was fairly disgusted with her. Evocative enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth because I thought she was so wrong. (5)

"Down to the Earth Below" by William Barton: This is the novella of this issue, the story of a group of teenagers who explore a cave and find a passage in it to a world out of the early SF pulps that they love so much. Events there are a combination of pulp adventure and adolescent symbolism for sexual awakening, growth, imagination, and fantasy worlds. It suffered considerably from my dislike of essentially all of the characters except the woman (who gets a few good bits and then becomes a non-entity) and my lack of interest in adolescent sexual stumbling. The ending is a weird sort of fantasy feel-good story that takes it firmly out of the realm of psychological realism and into wish-fulfillment, which was odd given that I thought the rest of the story was leading up to something more profound. (5)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-01-08

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