Asimov's Science Fiction

July 2009

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 33, No. 7
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 112

Sheila Williams's editorial for this issue looks at a possible correlation between space opera and similar expansive SF and the economic cycle. I'm suspicious of this sort of thing; it's very easy to mistake anecdote for correlation without a comprehensive survey with criteria determined in advance, which is generally more trouble than anyone bothers to go to. SF, and writing in general, clearly reflects the mood of the times, but the debate over grand "humans conquering the galaxy" stories versus more inward-looking writing involves so much entrenched wisdom on both sides that I think people mostly see what they expect to see. It's depressingly reminiscent of the endless SF paeans to the space program.

Silverberg's article was both less sweeping and more interesting: he collects versions of his books published in other languages and tells a few stories about being able to use the Internet to acquire them. This is one of those neat, practical ways in which the Internet has changed everything, but in such a quiet way that most of us don't notice until we stop and think about it. Also in the non-fiction for this episode is Paul Di Filippo's book review column, which as usual is focused too far out into the obscure for me.

"The Last Apostle" by Michael Cassutt: Speaking of paeans to the space program, this is another one of those what-if stories about the space program that we supposedly could have had. In this one, there were a few more Apollo missions and discovery of a surprising rock on the moon, which one of the astronauts smuggles back to Earth and they all keep quiet because there's some doubt over what it means. The story follows the group of astronauts through meetings over the years, and through their deaths, closing with the youngest of them returning to the Moon and a settled colony. It's competently-enough told, but I found the secrecy entirely unrealistic and the nostalgic optimism for an impossible dream of a space program just annoying. (5)

"Camp Nowhere" by Kit Reed: From astronauts to disaffected youth. The first-person protagonist of this story has been dragged by his parents to a summer camp that turns out to be a psychological encounter group. Except this one is way more sinister than summer counseling. It's not a bad twist, but the protagonist struck me as annoying throughout and I never warmed to the story. Also, to continue this review's expression of mild annoyance at theme, and granting the woo-woo nonsense and money-grubbing of a lot of encounter camps, I cringe a little bit at the demonization of counseling. (5)

"SinBad the Sand Sailor" by R. Garcia y Robertson: After the last two stories, this mostly brainless adventure romp is a nice change of pace. It's set on a colony world, but that's mostly an excuse to use some high technology and aliens to set up some structural constraints and neat set pieces. The story is straight out of the sword and sorcery mythos: a down-and-out drug runner gets repeatedly unlucky and dragged into various forms of trouble that he wasn't looking for, ends up rescuing a girl, feels obligated to rescue her again, and gets pulled into being a hero of sorts because he can't figure out how to get out of it. The tone is dry and resigned throughout, which offers a nice counter-balance to flying pirates, grand rescues, and drugged lipstick. Not much deeper significance here, but it was a fun way to spend an hour. (7)

"Sleepless in the House of Ye" by Ian McHugh: The protagonists of this story are gender-shifting aliens, ones whose natural reproductive cycle ends with their offspring eating them. They are, nonetheless, conscious and intelligent, struggling to survive and keep the pregnant ones safe and defended against the worms that attempt to infiltrate their winter dwellings. The almost mindless worms would devour them before the next generation can be born. The resulting story has something in common with survival horror, although without intelligent malevolence, except told from a starkly alien perspective. As a writing accomplishment, it's admirable, but I'm not sure I really wanted to read about these particular aliens. I think the reader's enjoyment will depend on how fascinated they are by the detailed sketch of an alien mindset McHugh creates. (6)

"Shoes-to-Run" by Sara Genge: There isn't much theme to this issue; each story seems to come from an entirely different angle. This is a coming-of-age story about a girl who wants to be a man, not a woman. She wants to hunt for her tribe, who appear to be living on the African plains outside futuristic cities. The SF aspect is there only as background and has little to do with the main story, which is about the hunt the girl attempts, to prove herself as a man. The characterization is solid and interesting, and while the story seemed a bit fragmented, I found myself caring enough about the characters that the ending mattered. (7)

"Earth II" by Stephen Baxter: This is typical Baxter: extended world-building with so-so characters and a straight-line plot. This one is set on a colony world settled by people escaping from an apparently ruined Earth. The primary protagonist is a female war leader who takes her successful band of raiders, apparently based (very) loosely on Vikings, in search of the City of the Living Dead, a fabled cache of alien treasure from the prior inhabitants of the world. The colony has fallen back technologically to seafaring and swords, apparently due largely to a lack of raw materials on the planet, so this quest takes on the style of a traditional adventure in exotic lands. This being Baxter, things like the orbital mechanics of the system come into play and there are some revelations about the aliens, but it all feels vaguely tedious. It's better than some of his writing that I've read, but still doesn't rise above the pedestrian and basically predictable. (6)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2010-05-03

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