Asimov's Science Fiction

June 2009

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 33, No. 6
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 112

Apparently, James Patrick Kelly has been publishing stories in the June issue of Asimov's for 25 years, which is the topic of both the editorial and a collection of short statements of appreciation. His column for the issue is about generation gaps in SF, something that I'd noticed vaguely but not put a finger on, and which is worth discussing (although I don't know that he draws any deep conclusions). Silverberg meanwhile recommends My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola, a Nigerian author, as early fantasy worth considering, and while it doesn't sound like my sort of thing, Silverberg is good at book reviews and I'm always happy to have him devote his column to one.

"Going Deep" by James Patrick Kelly: After all the hype of the appreciations, it's going to be hard to have a story in the same issue that comes close to living up to expectations, and this one, while capable, seems unlikely to win any awards. It's the story of an adolescent who's mother is a spacer, absent for the past fifteen years on a deep space mission. She's raised by an adoptive father who was contracted by her mother to do so, making for an awkward family life for a rebellious adolescent. The setup is full of teenage angst, with a bit of speculation thrown in around the edges involving sharing mind feeds with other people. But the story doesn't go anywhere, other than off a cliff of an adolescent temper tantrum into an abrupt emotional reconciliation that felt dictated rather than natural. It's not a bad story, but I doubt I'll remember it a month from now. (6)

"Controlled Experiment" by Tom Purdom: Bud is a convicted murderer who killed a child through an ill-targetted revenge prank and then knifed a cop when they came to arrest him. He was serving a life sentence without parole. But with constantly improving medical science and increasing lifespans, a life sentence could mean hundreds of years. The local governor was talked into trying an experiment, in which Bud could attempt to live a normal life in an experimental community of volunteers, closely monitored and with conditioning designed to prevent him from becoming violent. He of course immediately became a target for people who wanted to make him snap, to prove that prisoners like him are too dangerous to ever be released.

The story follows a husband and wife team reponsible for monitoring Bud and then tracking down the mischief (a prankster who's sort of the real-life version of an Internet troll) who used a virus to drive his floppypet wild and who was apparently hired to try to undermine the experiment. It's a sort of futuristic police procedural mixed with tidbits of Bud's background and a few brief segments from the viewpoint of the mischief. There's plenty of action, some interesting bits of speculation, and well-structured mingling of background information and plot. Solidly enjoyable. (7)

"Bare, Forked Animal" by John Alfred Taylor: The SF story about someone who falls out of an otherwise ubiquitous communications network into the cracks of the unmediated physical world is not a new idea, but it's a good one and one worth revisiting occasionally. "Bare, Forked Animal" follows the accident approach without much additional plot. An actor's implant somehow fails, dropping him out of communication with the world and unable to get into his apartment, get food or water, or communicate with anyone since everyone else is still completely buried in the computer-mediated consensual reality. It's very short and focused on description of that one moment. An okay treatment of the idea, marred for me by the complete lack of attention this world has apparently given to failsafes and its blind faith in the lack of need for them. (5)

"Cold Testing" by Eric Brown: This issue seems heavy on idea stories. This one is about a ship captain who develops a crush on his android crew member, whose form is (of course) that of a very beautiful woman. He tries to come to terms with his feelings while acting somewhat stupid, and she experiments with what human emotion and attachment mean while others question whether she can feel anything truly or if it's just programming. It's all very firmly within expected gender norms and SF tropes. This basic idea has been dealt with innumerable times before, and while "Cold Testing" is reasonably well-written, I don't think it brought anything new to the treatment other than a depressing ending. (5)

"The Monsters of Morgan Island" by Sandra McDonald: Morgan Island, in the middle of Lake Erie, disposes of monsters. They're shipped in chains on cargo ships, paraded through town, and then thrown into a giant pit in the middle of the island. Mary manages to acquire a monster child, which she keeps in secret for a time and treats like an animal. The story then offers two alternative endings, neither wholly satisfying. The parallels to slavery, racism, and death camps are obvious, but apart from unsettling the reader, the point was a bit lost on me. This is one of those stories that seems so unremittingly grim, based on a world view so ugly, that I'm not sure how to derive any enjoyment from reading it. (4)

"Sails the Morne" by Chris Willrich: Moving away from the idea focus of the issue, this is a space adventure story of the type that for me is one of the highlights of Asimov's. An old ship captain is escorting four aliens and some very valuable cargo to an alien settlement in the outer solar system, in a world in which humans have made contact with multiple advanced (and competing) alien races. The ship encounters an unexpected object on its way, which may be another ship. Intrigue within the ship and tense action outside follow, as the captain attempts to figure out the sides and loyalties of the other players and recover the ship's cargo. Along the way, the story touches on familiar SF themes of correcting preconceptions, avoiding judging aliens by human biases, and the perils of being a less advanced species in a universe of sharks, but all of this is secondary to the fast-moving story. It's not profound literature, but it's lots of fun. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2010-03-18

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