Asimov's Science Fiction

February 2011

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 35, No. 2
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 112

The editorial this issue attempts to draw an exceedingly tenuous connection between Asimov's I, Robot and Apple's marketing trademarks. Much more interesting is Silverberg's look back at Amazing Stories Quarterly. Peter Heck's review of Hespira almost has me convinced to try Matthew Hughes's novels, even though I thought his short stories were entertaining but not particularly remarkable.

"Out of the Dream Closet" by David Ira Cleary: I've read a couple of previous stories by Cleary, both of which were odd and somewhat erratic. This one is the most surrealistic to date, featuring as its protagonist someone known only as Little Girl, who has been held artificially at the age of 10 by her father for many years. At the start of the story, she's approached by Living Will and informed that her father intends to die, to which she reacts mostly with annoyance. She's much more interested in collecting souls and then possibly in perverting them, making something new from them.

I never quite figured out where this story was supposedly set, but I think it's in humanity's collective unconscious, or something similar. It seems full of archetypes and half-characters. It's a power struggle about knowledge and growing up, but it's deeply ambiguous, and Cleary doesn't unwrap the story for the reader even at the conclusion. I found it more confusing than illuminating, but it does feature a wonderful sphinx. (6)

"Waster Mercy" by Sara Genge: This is another in Genge's loose sequence of stories set in an ecologically devastated future. As with the others, it shows the wastes outside of a domed city, where sunlight is deadly radiation and must be carefully avoided. The protagonist is a monk in a religious sect that's obsessive about understanding and acclimating to foreign cultures as a reaction against colonialism. He's a devout cultural relativist, wanting to understand and become part of life in the wastes, but hopelessly naive. The native that he encounters fits some of his preconceptions and challenges others. Most of the story is about the two of them trying to understand each other. I read an undertone, which may or may not have been intended, of critique of white guilt, which is just as useless to the objects of it as indifference is. Moderately interesting, although the protagonist struck me as a bit too one-dimensional. (6)

"Planet of the Sealies" by Jeff Carlson: This is another post-apocalyptic story, and in its own way another story about surviving in the waste. Survival is more organized here, though. The protagonist is part of a mining crew that hunts for waste disposal sites in an ecologically devastated Earth, finding caches of preserved viable DNA to increase the diversity of a human race reduced to extensive cloaning to create enough people. The thrust of the story is a cautious tale of optimism and rebirth from a too-strict, too-measured life. I didn't find it entirely convincing, but the telling still held my attention. (6)

"Shipbirth" by Aliette de Bodard: De Bodard's normal subject matter is a science fiction universe in which China discovered America before the Europeans and the Aztec are a dominant power. It's an attempt to project a future as Aztec culture may have created it instead of in the European model. That means that it involves a lot of blood and sacrifice.

Ships in this universe are piloted by Minds, and Minds are carried as human pregnancies and then birthed, but something has gone seriously wrong with this pregnancy. Gender is also fluid in this culture, and the protagonist is a male guard who was previously female. The story plays with gender and pregnancy, with male and female strength, and with failing in ritual roles in culture. It's very ambitious, but it just doesn't come together for me. It's too strange, too bloody, too constricted in a dark world of sacrifice that I found difficult to invest in. (4)

"Brother Sleep" by Tim McDaniel: Humans genetically engineered to not need sleep is an idea that's been done before, most notably in Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain, but McDaniel's take is less sweeping and more personal. Here, sleeplessness is common, and sleeping is a low-class, strange behavior to be shunned. McDaniel shows a protagonist fascinated and disgusted by the sleep of his roommate, while struggling with the ties to his family and his desire to slip away from them and into what seems to be a more sophisticated and important world. But it's mostly a story about a college love triangle, messy and broken personal relationships, and a dubious characterization of how Thai culture might react uniquely to sleeplessness. Meh. (3)

"Eve of Beyond" by Bill Pronzini & Barry N. Malzberg: A fairly brief and pointed story about a corporate takeover of an entirely absurd and faintly morbid company. I'm in full sympathy with the underlying point, but the evil of corporate raiders isn't a new topic, and it's delivered here without the faintest note of subtlety. (5)

"The Choice" by Paul McAuley: This is the issue's novella and concluding story. Two teenagers hear there's a beached dragon in reach of their small boat and go to take a look, along with many of the other local inhabitants. Dragons in this world are some kind of not-entirely-explained alien life or machinery that cruises the world's oceans and digests and remakes the debris and waste of previous generations. They're nearly indestructable, until people manage to crack this one open with explosives. This leaves the boys with a fragment of technology they're not supposed to have and the challenge of what to do with it.

The story is well-told, detailed, and immersive, but as with the single novel of McAuley's that I read, I had a hard time caring about the plot. There isn't much conceptual exploration, just danger of various kinds, and the ending, while justified, was unsatisfying from a perspective of gaining deeper understanding of the world. I can see the skill, but the story left me unsatisfied. (5)

Rating: 5 out of 10

Reviewed: 2012-07-08

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