Asimov's Science Fiction

December 2009

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 33, No. 12
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 112

In this issue, Robert Silverberg continues his interesting series on world design by talking about how he constructed the society and biology of Majipoor. This is fun stuff; I wish there were more columns like this in SF magazines. Sheila Williams's editorial is about the various places the magazine offices have been in New York City, which I found mildly entertaining even if it doesn't have much to do with SF. Peter Heck's book column was average for him: more plot summaries than reviews of the sort that I like.

"A Lovely Little Christmas Fire" by Jeff Carlson: The protagonists of this short story are exterminators working for the Fish and Wildlife service in a near future where bioengineered pests have escaped and run wild. Think forest fighters protecting evacuated human structures, except the fire in this case is bioengineered termites. They run across another person somewhere they shouldn't be, suspect intentional sabotage rather than accidental infestation, and investigate in something of the style of a cop show, including the jurisdictional fights and possible coverups. This is not the sort of story that changes its world, but it was entertaining reading while exercising. (7)

"As Women Fight" by Sara Genge: The setting for this story is a low-technology world in which a partnership of man and woman fight once a year. The winner gets the female body of the two, and the loser gets the male body. Female is prised for family, more agility, and better senses, although some do like being men and either don't mind losing or lose on purpose. Against that background, there's a plot involving domestic trouble and self-discovery, but it's mostly there to explore the body-trading idea and its implication for conceptions of gender (which are both more dualistic and more fluid than our world). A good idea reasonably well-executed, and better than I was expecting it to be. (7)

"Animus Rights" by John Shirley: I couldn't tell you the title of the stories, but I know I've seen SF before that features two aliens who take different human forms in major battles to fight across centuries. In "Animus Rights," this is a type of sport, made more complex by the way the alien personalities are mostly submerged by the human consciousness of the person they're embedded inside. Shirley goes from there into some of the politics of this sort of game, writing a good story up until the ending, where it gets unfortunately cliched. It's a bit of a throwback message, sounding more like Cold War SF where the imminent destruction of the planet was the most common theme, but it's not bad. (6)

"Angie's Errand" by Nick Wolven: Although it takes a little bit to become clear, this is a post-apocalyptic story, focusing on survival and the decisions one makes for survival, and also somewhat on gender roles and on independence. Unfortunately, none of the things it says on those topics seem particularly new. The story is a relentless drumbeat of depression, reaching a conclusion that's at best bleak. The characters are well-drawn and seem real (although slight in that way of short stories), but I rarely enjoy reading stories about miserable, hopeless people. (4)

"Leaving the Station" by Jim Aikin: Joan has inherited an antique store, and with the store comes a revival of her childhood ability to see ghosts. It's not a welcome intrusion in her life, and she tries to get rid of it when she has an opportunity, but the story turns into an examination of her alternatives of embracing or refusing numinous experience. Again, not new ground for a fantasy short story, but the store and some of Joan's experiences are very well-described and evocative. Not particularly memorable, but not bad either. (6)

"A Large Bucket, and Accidental Godlike Mastery of Spacetime" by Benjamin Crowell: This is the best story of the issue. An alien spacecraft is asking for an emissary from Earth to join a diplomatic mission. The catch is that they're moving very fast through the system and aren't going to slow down, so the emissary will have to be essentially disassembled to be accelerated fast enough to catch up. Most of the astronauts back out, leaving a decidedly third-tier choice, our protagonist. She's dumped into what seems to be more of a cruise, populated by a variety of alien species whom she mostly can't understand. Everyone has AI translators, whose visual representations add a nice bit of surrealistic humor. Her attempts to muddle through diplomacy, and the surprising twists that take, somewhat reiterate the old SF theme of humans being the clever ones, but it's fresh and new enough, and told in such a great voice, that I thoroughly enjoyed it. One of the better SF handlings of first contact with advanced aliens, which avoids most of the normal pitfalls. (8)

"The Bride of Frankenstein" by Mike Resnick: Here is another of the long list of stories that rewrite an earlier story from a different angle. This one is, as expected, about exactly what its title says (and is correctly about Frankenstein's wife, not about Frankenstein's monster's wife). It's written in journal entry style, which is one of my favorite first person perspective methods. It's short and amusing; no surprises, but a good way to spend a few minutes. (6)

"Some Like It Hot" by Brian Stableford: I think I may just not get what other people see in Stableford. He's a well-respected writer, but while I sometimes find his stories mildly enjoyable, I almost always find them long-winded and a bit boring. Sadly, this one is worse than most. It's the story of two childhood sweethearts who both end up working on global warming, except on opposite sides. The story primarily follows Gerda, who wants adaptation to warming rather than attempting to stop it, in part due to its positive effects on northern countries. She and Kay have arguments, fallings-out, and reunions, but mostly have extended thoughts about the biology of adaptation, into which Stableford has apparently dumped quite a bit of research. All that research was lost on me. I didn't find the biology interesting, particularly in this much detail, and that's most of the text of the story. The remaining thread is the emotional dynamics between the two, and while that might have been an interesting sideline, it wasn't enough to carry the story. (3)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2011-04-28

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