Asimov's Science Fiction

August 2007

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 31, No. 8
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 144

This was an all-around average issue. The books column by Peter Heck wasn't particularly inspiring, but Silverberg's essay on translation of ancient languages was much more interesting and the sort of thing I'm glad he fills his column with. The stories wobble around average, with some good ones but nothing that leaps out.

"Hormiga Canyon" by Rudy Rucker & Bruce Sterling: I don't like Rudy Rucker's style, but the addition of Sterling does help. There is some believable characterization here, and the dialogue doesn't make my brain melt. The story is still full of Rucker's bizarre and mostly pointless zaniness, though, which I find boring. Two vaguely hippie guys with only a passing relationship to reality follow ants into a gap in spacetime and have close encounters with cosmic strings and time dilation. The ants are sometimes amusing. The story was about three times too long for me, but if you like Rucker, this has the same feel and is considerably better written than Rucker by himself. (5)

"Dead Horse Point" by Daryl Gregory: This was my favorite story of the issue. Gregory's writing style works for me. Venya gets a call from her former college roommate, Julia, after twenty years, saying to come. Twenty years back, Venya took care of Julia during her occasional fits of utter focus: she would drop out of the world for hours or days, leaving her body to mechanically go about living while she lived in her head, and then come back with brilliant scientific insights. Now, her brother is taking care of her, and she may be reaching a crisis point. The story skillfully entangles current events and flashbacks to Venya and Julia's history. I particularly liked the way the expected ending felt less and less correct for the characters and then Gregory turned it on its head. (7)

"The Bridge" by Kathleen Ann Goonan: This is a private detective story in a nanotech world, one where Washington, D.C. has been so thoroughly infested with nanotech that it's now a mysterious and dangerous world that few dare to enter. The first-person protagonist is something of a technological luddite, refusing the chemical-based communication technology that everyone is using now that radio interference makes radio communications infeasible. He's hired to recover the backups of artificial people, the mother and sister of his client. The investigation is fun; the world didn't do as much for me, and I thought the ending was weak and too easy. (6)

"Teachers' Lounge" by Tim McDaniel: Teachers meet in passing in the lounge and debate what to do about teaching remedial English to aliens that one of the teachers is convinced are here to conquer the planet. It starts out heavy on the humor of weird beliefs held by one's co-workers (I've known people like that), but then starts poking fun at English and the English as a Second Language teaching process. Funny enough that I laughed, and never takes itself too seriously. The subject matter makes no sense and the characterization is spot-on. (7)

"Prodigal" by Justin Stanchfield: A daughter meets her father when he returns to try to get down to earth to see her sister before she dies. The twist is that she's mortal and they're both immortal, beneficiaries of a short-lived immortality treatment for early space pilots. I liked the world and the emotional tension that Stanchfield builds up. The climax was less satisfying, both too abrupt and too simple, but that didn't completely ruin the story for me. (6)

"Thank You, Mr. Whiskers" by Jack Skillingstead: Definitely the creepiest story of the issue, it follows an eldery woman with growing dementia and the notes her mailbox starts to leave for her. One wonders for a long time how much of the story is in the viewpoint character's head, and then it becomes a musing on the worlds the mind creates for itself and the merits of living in them. The games it plays with moments of time and the connection between thought processes and physical condition reminded me vaguely of Connie Willis's superior Passage. This story isn't as evocative, turning finally to an old offer and the expected reply, but I think it develops its theme nicely. (6)

"The Mists of Time" by Tom Purdom: This is another story with a good idea, solidly written, that didn't grab me strong enough to recommend it but that passed the time. Emory is a rich man, proud of his ancestor's actions in the battle against the slave trade. Gina is a professional camerawoman, hired to make a documentary of the English privateer action against the slave ships, who thinks they were little better than those they were catching. They travel back in time to film a documentary, watching Emory's ancestor take his first ship full of slaves to return to Capetown for the bounty. They have no interaction with the past at all; along with the reader, they only watch. The story is about the degree to which one's expectations affect what one sees, and how different people focus on far different things in the same events. Slow and mostly about sailing ship battles, but the theme is subtle, thought-provoking, and not belabored. (6)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-10-01

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