Asimov's Science Fiction

February 2008

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 32, No. 2
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 144

This issue is dominated by (finally) the conclusion of the serialization of Galaxy Blues, but thankfully this time the non-fiction isn't shorted. The non-fiction is a bit so-so, though; Robert Silverberg's column this month is more amusing than interesting, and Paul Di Filippo's rundown of small-press releases didn't turn up much that intrigued me. (Probably not that surprising, given that I'm mostly a novel reader and that's where small presses are weaker since they have to compete with big publishers. They thrive more with short story collections and similar more esoteric stuff that the big publishers won't touch.)

"From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled..." by Michael Swanwick: Swanwick stories are often at a bit of an angle to the rest of the genre, and this one is no exception. The plot, once you dig it out of the story, is full of classic SF tropes of alien contact, diplomacy, misunderstanding, and cross-cultural confusion. There are some fun branching syntax diagrams of alien speech patterns thrown in, which I greatly enjoyed probably because they're similar to, but more subtlely done than, something I played with in my own writing. But the story is told from the perspective of a protective suit worn by the nominal protagonist and is full of weird diversions and fun descriptions of how the suit works. It also has an unexpected ending that fits its viewpoint. Without the charming perspective, it's a rather forgettable story, but the perspective makes it worth reading. (7)

"Sex and Violence" by Nancy Kress: Well, I never noticed the violence in this two-page short-short, but the sex shows up and provides a fun twist on the mystery of the origins of life. The star of the story is an amusing attempt to show near-incomprehensible aliens who find us as bizarre and disgusting as we find some bacteria. Not horribly coherent, but fun. (6)

"The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" by James Alan Gardner: Gardner has a matter-of-fact story-telling voice with a hint of wry wit under the surface that, when he's on, is oddly compelling. I found myself thoroughly enjoying this story without being able to put a finger on why. I think it's because the story is so confident in itself; it doesn't spend time explaining or justifying. A boy finds a ray-gun. The ray-gun changes his life, for both good and bad. As he matures, he realizes what a responsibility it is, and the problems it causes. And by the end of the story, it's the spark for a touching love story. The whole story is in the title, really, but Gardner writes it with such confidence and gentle emotion that it's the highlight of the issue. (7)

"The Egg Man" by Mary Rosenblum: I was excited to see a new Rosenblum short story and came to this with high hopes, but I wasn't able to like it as much as I wanted to. This story follows an itinerant aid worker in the desert south who brings eggs from genetically modified chickens to isolated communities and hence supplies them with immunizations and antibodies. The world construction is superb. But the world is depressing, vaguely post-apocalyptic, and felt claustrophobic despite its setting of open desert. All the characters are kept confined to the narrow roles available to them and are struggling with nearly insurmountable obstacles and the burden of the past. There is some hope and positive change in the story, but I still came away depressed and exhausted. (5)

"Inside the Box" by Edward M. Lerner: This is a time travel paradox story told in retrospect, as is slowly revealed over the beginning of the story. The setup and initial tone worked, pulled me into the story (despite some confusion), and made me curious to learn what had really happened. Then it went nowhere, and either the punch line went straight over my head or it wasn't anywhere near as good as the author thought it was. There was potential, but it wasn't fulfilled. (5)

"The Last American" by John Kessel: I've complained about this sort of story before when told from a conservative bent, so I suppose now's my opportunity to complain when it's told from a liberal bent. The conceit is a review of a historical drama, produced some time in the future by posthumans and for posthumans, about a notorious figure of 21st century history. The framing device is the best part of the story, and I enjoyed the SFnal extrapolation of entertainment woven into a review format. However, the person about whom the history is written is essentially a parody of the evil fundamentalist politician. He's an actor in a movie that casts Michael Moore as a terrorist some time after he spends time as a torturer and interrogator, and eventually he leads the attempted genocide against posthumans. In short, it's a collection of the worst that people think about right-wing politicians.

This entertains to the degree that it's a mirror of the political beliefs of those who read it and offends to the degree that it's not, but it doesn't change minds or add new depth to the debate. (And those who claim that it does are usually the ones who agree with it and hence are hoping it will convert their ideological opponents.)

This story has a much better framing device and is more amusing on its own merits than Henry Turtledove's "News from the Front", but it has the same flaws. (5)

"Galaxy Blues, Part Four of Four" by Allen M. Steele: Finally, the conclusion of the Galaxy Blues serialization. This is the best section of the story, with action, real suspense, and one excellent set piece. Steele writes hard SF scenes with care and detail, and while that's more detail than sometimes I care about, I admire his attempts at realistic space action. The first half of this installment held my interest as well as any of the novel to date.

Unfortunately, then comes the aftermath of the plot, in which the great questions of the role of humanity are resolved. And they're resolved in an oddly juvenile manner, with an obvious twist, a painfully bad love story, and a happily-ever-after ending that I found painfully simplistic. The pacing isn't bad and it kept me reading, but the novel as a whole isn't worth looking for. (6)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-03-03

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