Asimov's Science Fiction

April/May 2008

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 32, No. 4 & 5
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 240

The Asimov's double-issues are reliably worth looking forward to if only for the book columns by Norman Spinrad, who is head and shoulders above the other book columnists for either Asimov's or F&SF. For this column, I'm a bit less enthralled with the idea of the multiverse than he is (perhaps because it seems like old hat from comic book stories). But he still writes several excellent book reviews.

Also worth reading in the non-fiction department is another of Robert Silverberg's reflections on classic SF, this time on Olaf Stapledon. This column theme is reliably fascinating, and I hope he keeps it up for quite a while.

"Memory Dog" by Kathleen Ann Goonan: This is one of the better Goonan stories I've read, partly because I've always liked a dog story, but primarily because it tackles uploaded memory from an interesting angle. The narrator is a dog who is serving as the repository for the memory (and, as it turns out, a bit more) of a man in a future world with Orwellian media control and a subversive publishing mechanism via implants. The story deals mostly with his emotions and the history that led him to decide to become a dog, but it mixes in some speculation on memory and on the drawbacks of heightened memory and cognitive drugs. I've seen similar themes explored by others, but this was an enjoyable treatment. (7)

"Slidin'" by Neal Barrett, Jr.: I usually have a hard time with stories written in dialect, and I'm not much of a fan of post-apocalyptic stories. Post-apocalpytic stories narrated in dialect about groteseque surreal mutants therefore really aren't my thing, particularly ones resting on the well-worn trope of reversals of normality. The feature here is the banter and style, which didn't work for me but which probably does for other people. (4)

"The House Left Empty" by Robert Reed: The politically shattered future with self-sufficient communities using nanotech fabricators made a great background, particularly combined with the deliverymen trying to find the right place to drop something off. I also liked the SF twist of the mysterious package and its purpose. But beyond that, this never came together into a story for me. I get (although am very tired of) the space boosterism in the ending, but it's generally depressing and feels pointless. (5)

"An Almanac for the Alien Invaders" by Merrie Haskell: The basic plot of this story isn't that unusual: it follows an alien invasion by overwhelming superiority and the sort of structure of subservience and debt that David Brin makes extensive use of in the Uplift series. However, this one is told along with an odd variation on the alien kidnapping story and something of an inversion of the typical "fans are slans" attitude of the SF community that I found thought-provoking. The structure of the story, with one section per month, is oddly compelling and more effective than it has any right to be. It gives the story a quiet charm that overcomes a basically depressing message and turned it into something I enjoyed reading. (7)

"An Art, Like Everything Else" by Nick Wolven: Wolven looks here at how different the grieving process could be in an uploaded reality, and how self-created reality could put an entirely new spin on the ghost story. It digs out one of the standard explanations for haunting and turns it on its head by directly involving the narrator and making reality more immediately modifiable. A nice idea, a bit saccharine in the execution, but worth reading. (6)

"An Alien Heresy" by S.P. Somtow: This story reminded me primarily of Michael Flynn's Eifelheim. It puts a similar medieval spin on an old SF idea, using one of SF's normal outside views to look at a time period and set of ideas (this time, an investigator for the Inquisition) that's even more alien to the modern reader. I wish I were allowed to like the narrator better than the story permits; at the start, Somtow does a good job of showing how a typical villain can be honest and upstanding in his own eyes, but that falls apart by the end of the story. I do like the way he gets to his ending, though. Not bad, but not as good as I think it could have been. (6)

"Ghost Town" by Catherine Wells: This is a close look at the psychological impact of time dilation. That sums up the whole story; there isn't much else to it. It's therefore somewhat dismissable as yet another take on a very old trope (possibly most memorably handled in Joe Haldeman's The Forever War). But for what it is, it's a good treatment. (6)

"Strangers When We Meet" by Kate Wilhelm: This longer story is about a very unusual amnesiac, a young woman who was in an accident that killed her whole family and who wakes up each day without any memory of anything that happened since the accident. The twist that Wilhelm adds is a protagonist who is a brain researcher, and for whom this patient is the mother lode of research subjects. Such lack of memory (however unlikely medically; I'll forgive the handwaving) is perfect for repeated experiments and isolation of different portions of the brain. Somewhat implausibly, the military also decides that she's the perfect subject and that this research can be abused for nefarious means. But that's not until the love story angle enters the picture.

I had some (okay, a lot of) credibility problems with this one, but it's worth tolerating that for a well-told love story in unusual circumstances and for some satisfying scenes of standing up to and thumbing one's nose at power. (6)

"Another Country" by Matthew Johnson: Well, the idea of random time rifts yielding refugees from humanity's past that have to be housed and educated was mildly interesting, but beyond that I'm afraid this story did nothing for me. It tries to use that setup as an angle from which to tackle cultural adjustment, role models, and immigration, but I found the whole thing unsatisfying. (5)

"The Advocate" by Barry B. Longyear: Whee, another Alzheimer's story. (That's two in just this issue.) This one is epistolary, which adds a touch of freshness, but it degenerates into the same respin of Flowers for Algernon that seems to be the consensus view on how to write this story. And if I want to read Flowers for Algernon, I know where to find it, including the more interesting bits than are covered here. (4)

"The Room of Lost Souls" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Rusch is one of my favorite short fiction authors and this is a direct sequel to "Diving into the Wreck", a story I liked a great deal. It's not quite the story its predecessor was, mostly again because of an ending that didn't live up to the promise of the rest of the story for me, but it's still solid, interesting psychology and hard-edged space fiction. Rusch's setting of archeological exploration against a vast backdrop of human history reminds me of Jack McDevitt's Alex Benedict series, and I think Rusch does a better job with characterization. This is the anchor of this issue, a meaty novella, and definitely the highlight. Good stuff. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-05-12

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