Asimov's Science Fiction

September 2007

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 31, No. 9
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 144

This was a particularly good issue full of solid stories, including an excellent one by James Van Pelt that I hope is in the running for next year's Hugo. Silverberg's column on the horrors of ancient kings was mildly confusing until I realized it was intended to come before last month's column, but was interesting despite that. Paul di Filippo provides his usual wide-ranging survey, including a few books that I'd not heard of and may want to pick up.

"The Caldera of Good Fortune" by Robert Reed: Reed continues to be one of the most reliable short fiction authors in the genre. This story features a human guide living in a section of a huge starship that's devoted to life that lives in hot springs around volcanic calderas. It's an amazingly elaborate construction, as we discover over the course of the story, designed to exactly replicate the visual environment of the home planet of these aliens. The basic plot involves a fugitive and his hunters, with violence and danger, but Reed uses some features of this constructed world to turn it into a surprising meditation on the nature of identity. The action kept me reading, and I liked the thoughtful twist of the ending a lot. (7)

"My Heart As Dry As Dust" by Kim Zimring: The Ghanan setting and mingling of superstition and science are the strengths of this story, that and vivid characterization of the protagonist. The plot turns out to be a reasonably obvious look at the ethics of dangerous vaccination, a not-unusual theme, but I became engrossed in the life of the lead character. It hammers home its point for a bit too long, but a good story nonetheless. (6)

"How Music Begins" by James Van Pelt: This is the best story of the issue and, as far as I'm concerned, a strong contender for the next short story Hugo. It's told from the perspective of the music director of a high school band that were kidnapped by unknown and unseen aliens and have been held in a dormatory and practice auditorium ever since. It's a mixture of Cowdrey's struggles to know what he should do for the kids and a look at the obsessions, focuses, and reactions of a group of kids kept under a great deal of pressure with few cues. But more than that, it's the story of Elise, the arranger of much of the band's music and a child prodigy as a composer. Her story is all the more effective by being told from outside. We never get to step into her head, making the ending all the more effective. I wasn't completely convinced by the reactions of the kids given the length of time involved, but that's a minor nit; the strength of the story sweeps away minor objections. Excellent. (9)

"The Prophet of Flores" by Ted Kosmatka: This story is set in a fascinating alternate reality in which scientific evidence and modern geology confirmed that Earth was only 6,000 years old. Some of the effects are predictable, such as far more power for religious views and a corresponding disbelief in evolution that drives the plot, but not all of the secular trend of the 20th century disappears and many of the same discoveries proceed on a different footing. The background of the protagonist is mixed into an adventurous trip to recover DNA from human remains that don't fit normal understanding of biology. I thought the ending was a bit confusing and unnecessarily heavy on shock value, but the background was intriguing and more subtle than it may sound. (6)

"What Wolves Know" by Kit Reed: This story of a child raised by wolves sits on the realistic border of fantasy. Happy isn't fully realistic: a child's life among wolves wouldn't quite match his story, and wild children recovered have considerably more difficulties than Happy does and have far more trouble with language than Happy's near-magical understanding towards the end of the story. Its appearance in an SF magazine allows one to handwave through that a bit and focus on the point, which is a contrast between wolf culture and the evil things humans do to each other and their children. In the end, it didn't say anything that profound to me, but the level of suspense and sympathy with the protagonist was high. Creepy and occasionally disturbing. (6)

"Draw" by Pati Nagle: A rather lightweight young adult story about a boy who tries to rescue his father from an accident at a desalination plant. Not badly written, but a little pointless. There's danger and suspense for fairly obvious reasons, the kid is pushed into the predictable position of having to act, and everything turns out just as you'd expect. (5)

"By Fools Like Me" by Nancy Kress: I think this is the most depressing story by Kress I've ever read. She steps away from her normal focus on genetically-engineered children and instead shows a stark future dystopia of environmental collapse and desperate subsistence farming. The story is told from the unusual perspective of a dying grandmother who barely remembers the previous world and who deals with her granddaughter's discovery of a cache of books (criminally and evilly printed on killed trees). The ending is stark, with little or no cause for optimism, but the characterization along the way is excellent. (7)

"The Good Ship Lollypop" by R. Garcia y Robertson: Garcia y Robertson tends to write straightforward adventure stories without a lot of moral. This is no exception. A kid growing up on an orbital station that's been lived in for quite a while runs into a bogeyman as a kid, and then gets in trouble with the law. She makes an escape, prompting an adventure with slavers, competing off-shoots of humanity, and quite a bit of adolescent rebellion. There's no greater significance to the story, but it's a fun romp and I liked the narrative voice. (7)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-10-13

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