Asimov's Science Fiction

January 2011

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 35, No. 1
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 112

The editorial this issue introduces a puzzle by Martin Gardner, which is a fun change of pace and more interesting than many of the editorials. The puzzle itself wasn't my thing, but I did enjoy reading the solutions and seeing how it was constructed. Silverberg's column is about average, talking about ruins, but in a fun coincidence he quotes from the Exeter Book (the poem "The Ruin"), which shortly thereafter came up in a course I was listening to about the history of London. (It's talking about the ruin of Londinium.) Interesting poem, and worth reading.

"Two Thieves" by Chris Beckett: I was interested at the start of this story. Two thieves of different temperaments banished from their city, a dimensional portal, and exploration of a ruined temple: good material for a light adventure story. I did not, however, want to read rather graphic descriptions of people shoving diamonds up their ass and the inevitable result, and the creepy magical interlude lost quite a bit of its interest by being neither particularly comprehensible nor followed through. More detail, more development, less gross please. (4)

"Dolly" by Elizabeth Bear: One would think, this many years after Asimov, that there wouldn't be much new to say about androids and the safety of their interactions with humans, but like grandmaster chess games, the story keeps diverging at some point from Asimov and going to new and interesting places. This one starts with a murder investigation where the victim was clearly killed by a programmable sex doll. The question is why, and how was the doll used as the murder weapon? Bear gives the detective a house android of her own, but a much less sophisticated model, and does a good job of having the case strike a little too close to home. The ending twist is not too surprising for those who have read a lot of SF, but it's well-told and effectively handled. (7)

"Visitors" by Steve Rasnic Tem: This is a rather disturbing look at life extension and our prison system, marred by insufficent outrage and a very depressed sense of inevitability. I can buy that we'd start selling prisoners for medical experimentation; in fact, that sounds very much like a logical outgrowth of the current US private prison system. But whether or not this would be greeted with this sort of depressed acceptance, I don't want that to be the case and I certainly don't want to read about it. It just makes me angry, particularly when the characters try to justify the horror of it to themselves. It's not exactly a bad story, but it makes me too angry to enjoy it. (3)

"Interloper" by Ian McHugh: This started off looking like yet another post-apocalyptic story, of the subtype where the world ends up inhabited by a variety of mutants. But what's going on in the background is much more interesting. There has apparently been a sort of dimensional alien invasion, one that continues to happen through specific people and which is almost as much psychic as it is material. The protagonists are a combination circus troupe and freak show, but they're also hunters capable of heading off or putting a stop to such an invasion. There's a lot going on that isn't entirely explained: a lot of unstated backstory, of character dynamics, of history. It's a bit on the horrific side for me, but it was more interesting than I was expecting and does a good job of giving the feeling of a larger world. (6)

"Ashes on the Water" by Gwendolyn Clare: The setting is a future India, deep into the grip of water shortages and correspondingly strict laws and patrols around any available water. The protagonist is a young woman who's sister has died. Her goal is to spread her ashes on running water that flows to the sea to quiet her spirit, something that poses a significant challenge given how well all the water is protected. It's an interesting premise, but a story that felt more like a tour and didn't have enough substance to keep me interested. (5)

"Killer Advice" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: A new Rusch story is always a good thing. This one, for a change, is not set in her Diving into the Wreck universe, at least obviously, but it is a science fiction story. A passenger liner docks at an out-of-the-way and run-down station after three mysterious deaths on-board and a crippling fire (which shouldn't have been possible on a ship). The passengers all check into the local hotel, where the murders continue. The owner of the hotel, the local doctor, and one of the ship's crew (who is also a suspect) try to figure out the murderer, all while carefully circling each other and poking at each other's pasts and the pasts of the passengers. There isn't much deeper significance to the plot or a resolution that one hasn't seen before, but it's an adequate murder mystery and a good character story (and is satisfyingly long). (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2012-04-24

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