Asimov's Science Fiction

July 2007

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 31, No. 7
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 144

This was a particularly strong issue without a bad story or bad feature. Silverberg's column on the Catholic decision about limbo was interesting, Paul Di Filippo did a good job of digging into some more obscure corners of SF, and even Sheila Williams's editorial was mildly interesting.

On the story front, "Bullet Dance" was probably the best of the issue, but it has strong competition. This was the best issue in some time.

"The Trial" by Brian Stableford: I haven't been a fan of Stableford's recent stories, but here he moves away from Elizabethan adventure to a contemporary tale of drug trials. There have been quite a few Alzheimer's stories in the past few years, but Stableford avoids the obvious drama and heartstrings in favor of looking at memory, forgetting, and how we use forgetfulness to cope with life. I wish he'd dug a bit deeper, and the end is a bit overly dramatic and not emotionally satisfying, but I liked the ideas. (6)

"Bullet Dance" by John Schoffstall: Clio has been trained her whole life to dance with bullets by two strange people who seem to be spirits of some type. Other than that, she's an entirely normal daughter of a diplomat in Cairo. Schoffstall does a great job interweaving this strange training, for some unknown future need, with life as an embassy kid amidst growing tensions. I loved how the strangeness of it is simply normality since it started when Clio was so young, leaving the reader with both a vivid picture of Clio's attitude and a sense that something very strange is going to happen. When that final twist does come, it was far sharper than I expected, surprising, dark, and effective. Clio is a delight and the story tackles a far harder truth than I thought it would. Great stuff. (8)

"The Sky Is Large and the Earth Is Small" by Chris Roberson: This is a story in Roberson's Celestial Empire sequence (which I hadn't previously read). It's the story of a researcher in a dominant Chinese Empire who is trying to write a report on Mexica and its potential for Chinese conquest, and who wants to check facts with an old prisoner who had gone on a voyage to the country in his youth. The prisoner, though, realizes he has nothing to lose and plays a wonderful game of passive resistance to answering questions and manipulating the situation to his own quiet ends. It's mostly an atmospheric story with a softly amusing ending, but I liked the quiet resistance and redirection. (7)

"Roxie" by Robert Reed: This was an unusual one; I'm not sure what I think of it. It's the story of a dog, her owner, and their regular runs, intermixed with an asteroid that runs an ever-increasing chance of hitting Earth. The two themes intertwine but never fully connect, playing with the idea of life and death and what the arc of a life is like. I think it will mostly appeal to dog-lovers, as it's an excellent portrait of a dog with all her quirks, but the concluding emotional connection between the two plots worked for me on a deeper level than just that. Don't expect a lot of resolution other than emotional. (7)

"Congratulations from the Future!" by Michael Swanwick: This is more of a gag than a story, but it's a good one. It's a letter supposedly written by a version of Swanwick from the future, looking back over the next seventy years of Asimov's and full of in-jokes about the evolution of science fiction. Fun, light fan material. (7)

"Fountain of Age" by Nancy Kress: This is the long novella of the issue, telling the story of a rather shady old man and his obsessive search for a woman who he once knew and who gave him his start in a life of grey-market capitalism and political power. The background is a world where a revolutionary medical treatment can offer perfect health for a price, a world that's full of evolutionary improvements to technology but the same sorts of structures of power and influence as our world. The strength of the story is the narrative voice: the first-person viewpoint character is not nice, and not just in typical anti-hero ways. Kress does a good job not whitewashing him while still showing his perspective, making his obsession and his lack of morals self-consistent without justifying them. It's not a story with a moral so much as a good adventure story with an unusual protagonist and a past thread of narrative filling in the world background. Kress as usual does a good job playing with the effects of biological change on people. (7)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-08-14

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