Asimov's Science Fiction

December 2007

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 31, No. 12
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 144

This issue was dominated by the second part of Allen M. Steele's novel serialization, which is somewhat better than I expected but which is still vaguely bothering me, and an excellent Christmas novella from Connie Willis. The non-fiction was a cut above, featuring a very good Robert Silverberg column analyzing an early Heinlein novel. I love these sorts of retrospective book reviews.

"All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis: Aliens land their spaceship, come out, and then stare at everything disapprovingly. For months. Not communicating, not acting, just staring at everything and disapproving so intensely that people have a hard time being around them. The government gets increasingly desperate, going through various panels of experts, and finally setting on the aliens anyone who has a theory, including a local reporter. Then, when they finally abruptly sit down in the middle of a mall, everyone is desperate to understand what finally made them react.

Willis is at her best in around this length. Her characters are amazingly non-confrontational, just tolerating and working around behavior that makes me want to smack people, but at novella length I don't quite have time to get too frustrated. The detective work is amusingly thorough, particularly since an encyclopedic knowledge of Christmas carols becomes vital to solving the mystery. The ending is amusing, although as usual for a Willis story the idiots never quite get what they deserve. (8)

"The Lonesome Planet Travelers' Advisory" by Tim McDaniel: This is a light bit of amusement in the form of a supposed travelers' advisory for aliens visiting Earth. The basic ideas have been done before (I seem to recall a few Douglas Adams bits along these lines), but this was still amusing (and very short). (7)

"Strangers on a Bus" by Jack Skillingstead: This story is much odder, about a stranger met on a bus and an odd conversation. This stranger makes up stories about people, and thinks those stories become true. It's an interesting twist on the sort of mental game that many of us have played at one time or another, mixed with the occasional weird mingling of perception and reality and the way that one can project one's beliefs onto strangers. The story reaches no firm conclusions, which is atmospheric but a bit frustrating. It's more the sort of story that turns an idea around in the light for a while. (6)

"The Rules" by Nancy Kress: Amazingly for a Nancy Kress story, this one isn't about highly evolved super-children. Instead, it's about the sort of desperate action that many of us have wanted to take to get people to listen about something important. The result is a bit facile, though; I think it touches on some truth around likely reactions to a concerted push for particular charities, but I think it neglects the more complicated effects of such a push and the reasons why people normally don't pay attention. I found the framing story somewhat confusing, which left the end of the story not as satisfying as it could have been. Okay, but not solid enough to be good. (6)

"do(this)" by Stephen Graham Jones: It took me a little bit to understand what Jones was doing here, but the handling of someone with some autistic and obsessive-compulsive tendencies and his understanding of language was intriguing. The plot, however, was shaky and the ending didn't make a lot of sense. Another that I think I partly missed. (4)

"Galaxy Blues, Part Two of Four" by Allen M. Steele: The serialization of Galaxy Blues continues. Jules hangs out with the rest of the crew, we get some foundational characterization and rather obvious sexual tension. Then we finally get off of Coyote (yay!) and on to somewhere hopefully more interesting. It's all very functional, moving the story along and setting up differentiated characters, but it felt superficial to me. I don't get a feeling of emotional depth from any of Steele's characters, and only mild curiosity for what's going to happen. It's all just a bit too cliched, down to the brooding telepath who's trying to keep from hearing everyone all the time (just how many times has that been done?). So far, nothing the slightest bit surprising has happened. (5)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-02-11

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