Asimov's Science Fiction

June 2011

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 35, No. 6
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 112

Sheila Williams's editorial is about a new ebook-only anthology of Asimov's stories, with some discussion of electronic sales. This sort of business editorial is what she's best at writing, although in this case I'm far enough in my reading that I'm reading it through a bit of a time machine.

Silverberg's essay is about popular bubbles and is mildly interesting, although I've read quite a lot about this at greater length. I think he misses the plot at the end, though, where he brings in the 2008 collapse and works on focusing the blame on speculators rather than those selling the fraudulent investments. James Patrick Kelly has a surprisingly graceful introduction to fanfic that does a better job at conveying the underlying enthusiasm than most mainstream coverage. The review column this month is Peter Heck's workman-like survey of recently released books of interest.

"The Cold Step Beyond" by Ian R. MacLeod: Most of MacLeod's writing I've read has focused on lush world-building, usually with a mix of magic and industrial revolution. This felt like a departure: a character study of a heavily-modified warrior and monster hunter against a clearly science-fictional background.

The protagonist has no memory of her past beyond her training in a religious institution, and is as much machine as woman. She is on one of her first missions to hunt dangerous monsters. But she's given almost no direction, and rather than encountering a monster, she encounters a feral woman with an ancient ray gun. MacLeod has a very SFnal twist waiting in the wings, but what I liked best were the character dynamics and the interplay of duty and self-determination. (8)

"All the News That's Fit" by Carol Emshwiller: This story follows Emshwiller's normal pattern of telling the story of an outsider and representative of outsider culture trying to understand a society, but her protagonist here is both more alone and more proactive than her average protagonist. She lives in a distant mountain village only rarely visited by a traveling reporter who brings news from outside. When he doesn't come, she goes out looking for him, at first to rescue him if he ran into trouble and later to find the news herself. Much of the story has the reader worrying nervously for her as she observes the large city while clearly having no idea how to live there. The ending provides an interesting and (at least for me) unexpected twist on the rural person coming to the big city, but it was marred by a level of anger from the protagonist that I never thought was well-motivated. (6)

"Walking Stick Fires" by Alan DeNiro: There is a science fiction subgenre that, for lack of a better term, I'll call post-apocalyptic surrealism. This is an entry in that strange subgenre, featuring two alien bikers having mostly unmotivated adventures with strange objects and even stranger creatures on an Earth that's apparently been invaded and mostly devastated by multiple parties. Like a lot of post-apocalyptic surrealism, it never makes much sense. It reminded me of Rucker but with a bit more characterization and less hand-waving math. (4)

"Apocalypse Daily" by Felicity Shoulders: I really liked the premise for this story. The protagonist is a concept designer for a social-oriented MMORPG, but one where only scores and resources carry over rather than the whole world. The goal of the game is survival: the world ends regularly, globally or locally, in a huge variety of ways, and one scores points and earns resources for further iterations by finding ways to survive that catastrophe. The game is structured to encourage cooperation, at least at first. But Katrina gets into a mildly paranoid workplace conflict with someone else on her team, leading to some significant changes in the underlying expectations of the game. Unfortunately, while the background and idea are quite solid, the direction the story goes is predictable pessimism, the conclusion doesn't say much that I found interesting, and I ended up detesting the protagonist. I would have preferred a more unique psychological twist. (6)

"The Fighter" by Colin P. Davies: This is a rather short story, essentially an idea study in the context of a police stop of a futuristic entertainment fighter. This is another one of those depressing takes on a common SF trope. I didn't entirely follow the world-building, but it was all dark and pointless enough that I didn't really want to dig further. (4)

"Kiss Me Twice" by Mary Robinette Kowal: I've read a few police procedurals featuring AIs before, but this is by far the best one I've read. Huang is a detective, and like all the detectives he makes extensive use of the police department AI. Unlike most of the detectives, though, he treats her as a full partner and close to human, and she reciprocates with a Mae West persona and a closer relationship with him than most of the department. They're in the middle of investigating a murder when there is a raid on the police department and the AI herself is stolen.

The rest of the story entangles their investigation with the theft of the AI. The police AI is, of course, restored from backup, but that's the first time that's ever happened to her, and she's shaken by it, and more disturbed by the knowledge that there are two copies of her running. The mystery angle of the story is reasonably satisfying, but the AI characterization and Huang's careful feeling-out of their relationship and appropriate behavior on his part is the best part of the story.

This is a great story: long, satisfying, and thoroughly excellent. I'd happily read more fiction in this universe. (8)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2013-03-01

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