Asimov's Science Fiction

July 2010

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 34, No. 7
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 112

The non-fiction is a bit better than average this issue, featuring a moderately interesting editorial on the contents of the library on the International Space Station and a better-than-average book review column by Paul Di Filippo. Silverberg's column is on finding extra-solar planets, an interesting bit of astronomy although somewhat dated by subsequent events (since I'm significantly behind in my magazine reading).

"The Other Graces" by Alice Sola Kim: This issue opens with a disturbing but very effective story about a second-generation Korean immigrant who is not from a wealthy, high-class Asian family. It's about racism, identity, and shame; it's disturbing and pointed in the effects of social construction of in-groups and out-groups of immigrants. I found the plot itself a bit lacking: the idea of a cross-universe group of a particular person helping versions of herself is intriguing, but it didn't really go anywhere. The background, characters, and general situation was, for me, much more the message. I quite liked the subtle touch of using Korean characters for the dialogue from her parents that the protagonist doesn't quite understand, but am not sure what to make of the fact that it's always the same two characters repeated.

A depressing story, but for me one that broadened my view of the world and kicked a few holes in some unstatated assumptions, and for that quite worthwhile. (7)

"Haggle Chips" by Tom Purdom: An interstellar trader (of eye regeneration technology) is on his way to a paying client when he's kidnapped by a local group opposed to his client's attempt to build a dam across a river that would interfere with their construction of a hydroelectric facility. He's allowed access to the planetary networks to continue to conduct his business, but is otherwise kept captive in their compound as a hostage in negotiations with his client.

Purdom has been writing a long-running series of autobiographical essays for The New York Review of Science Fiction, and his fictional voice is very similar to his autobiographical voice. The story is told with a calm distance that defuses most of the sense of danger, which seems appropriate since no one is very interested in actually hurting the protagonist. The complexities are more political: he's not interested in staying captive, his client wants to aid his escape, and he has to work out ways to smuggle in tools that would let him attempt it. This is made more complex by the use within the group of sex and relationships for social bonding and his assignment of a female partner who he ends up falling for despite himself. It's not a story with much of a larger message, but it's a moderately entertaining SF adventure, marred only by a few fight scenes that drag on much longer than their level of interest warranted. (7)

"Eddie's Ants" by D.T. Mitenko: This was a nice, humorous story that for some reason I remembered being much longer than it actually was (which is a compliment: it packs a lot in). The protagonist shares an apartment complex with an alien named Edward who, rather than being a singular entity, is made up of a colony of ant-like creatures that form a collective intelligence. Apparently the alien world is hyper-competitive and individualistic, and these collective entities are constantly trying to destroy and consume each other. The first-person protagonist hates Edward because his girlfriend seems to like him better and tries to kill him at the start of the story, only to discover that Edward is bemused and also interested in the challenge of fighting off an attacker. The rest of the story involves escalating attempts on Edward's life, generally met with condescending bemusement. Light, but fun. (7)

"The Jaguar House, In Shadow" by Aliette de Bodard: According to the introduction, this story is set in a larger alternate universe where China discovered America before the Europeans. It's an Aztec-flavored story set in a Mexico with modern technology, but where blood-filled worship of dark deities is common. It seems to be divided into houses, each defended by trained warrior knights, but most of the houses have been destroyed by a repressive and apparently half-crazed central government. The story is about an internal war within Jaguar House between one who would compromise with the current government to keep the house alive and others who would not. It's a sort of dark martial arts adventure that features quite a lot of torture. Despite the Aztec-derived setting, it reminded me more of the sort of story that one usually connects with western conceptions of eastern settings: ninjas sneaking into palace compounds, warriors maintaining codes of honor, and duels with hand-to-hand weapons. It's certainly not boring, but I had a hard time liking any of the characters and the timeline of the story was a bit confusing. (6)

"Amelia Pillar's Etiquette for the Space Traveler" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Any Rusch story is a good thing, but this is (sadly) a slight, humorous piece purporting to be a free excerpt from a book on space travel etiquette rather than a full story. It's still a lot of fun. Space travel here appears to be similar to a luxury cruise line, and a lot of the humor comes from its cheery presentation and gloss over hints that many space travelers find the whole experience extremely unpleasant. I particularly liked the frank commentary about the reactions other passengers will have towards children later in the voyage. (7)

"A History of Terraforming" by Robert Reed: This long novella is much of the issue and the cover story. Given that Reed is one of the most reliable short fiction authors in SF, this had me feeling optimistic about the issue, and that held true. Reed here turns his hand to an extended future history of the solar system, written via vignettes that focus on one man, Simon, first seen as a boy on Mars holding a seed that's used as part of the terraforming effort there. He later grows into his own position as an atum, the name in this universe for the people responsible for ecosystems and terraforming of the worlds of the solar system. We follow him through centuries of human effort, including one very memorable rebellion that seeks to cast off any limitations or restrictions on how introduction of life is managed, and several encounters with preservationists who think terraforming is unconscionable destruction of the delicate ecosystems already present on some of the worlds.

This story makes me think of Olaf Stapledon with characters. Reed aspires to a similar sweep of history, although not pushing quite as far into the future. By the time the novella ends, humans have changed drastically from the recognizable forms at the start of the story, and the nature and understanding of terraforming has similarly undergone a dramatic change. Along the way, though, there are some touching moments of deep human emotion (often with a nice SFnal twist of altered body forms). I wish Simon had a bit more agency, but his status as perpetual bystander with most of the grand action taking place off-stage fits well with the story that Reed is telling. Solid stuff. (7)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2011-09-06

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