Asimov's Science Fiction

July 2011

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 35, No. 7
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 112

Williams's editorial is a mildly interesting piece about story titles. Silverberg's column is a more interesting (and rather convincing) rebuttal of the joke that fiction authors are "professional liars," combined with an examination of a fake and fantastic 14th travelogue that (at least in Silverberg's telling) was widely believed at the time. The precis of Silverberg's argument is that lying requires an intent to deceive, which is a property of deceptive memoir writers but not of fiction authors.

Di Filippo's review column, as usual, is devoted almost entirely to esoterica, although I was moderately interested to hear of Stableford's continued work on translating early French SF. None of it seems compelling enough to go buy, but good translations of early works seem like a good thing to have in the world.

"Day 29" by Chris Beckett: The conceit of this novelette is an interstellar travel system akin to a transporter that allows near-instantaneous travel between worlds. The drawback is that all memories from somewhere between 40 and 29 days before transit up until transit are wiped. The progatonist is a data analyst who is about to travel, and therefore by agency rule is required to stop doing work on day 40 before transmission since he can't be held legally liable for anything he has no recollection of doing. (I would like to say that I find this implausible, since one could always keep records, but it's exactly the sort of ass-covering regulation that a human resources department would come up with.)

The premise is quite interesting: what do you do during that period that you're going to forget? Beckett wisely mixes Stephen's current waiting period on the colony world with his diary of his original waiting period on Earth the first time he went through the transmission process, and the latter adds greatly to the reader's appreciation of the weirdness of the forgotten interval.

Unfortunately, this is a story more about psychological exploration than about plot, and Stephen just isn't very interesting. The telepathic but possibly nonsentient aliens add weirdness but not much else, and the ending of the story provided little sense of closure or conclusion for me. A good idea, but not the execution I wanted. (5)

"Pug" by Theodora Goss: Since I grew up with a pug, I have a soft spot for a story featuring one; sadly, though, this story has insufficient pug in it. This is a quiet fantasy (Asimov's calls it SF, presumably on the basis of parallel worlds and a hypothesized scientific explanation, but it reads like fantasy to me) featuring Victorian girls, including one with a bad heart. They discover a hidden door to other versions of their world and do some minor exploration. There's little or nothing in the way of plot; the story is more of an attempt to capture a mood. It's mildly diverting, but I wish it had gone somewhere more substantial. (5)

"Dunyon" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: A Rusch story is often the highlight of an issue, and this is no exception. The protagonist is the owner of a bar in a space station that's become a combination of a refugee camp and a slum. War and chaos have created desperate people, most of whom are attempting to find some way to resources and get out of the bottom of society. The story is about a rumor: a mythical system named Dunyon that's safe and far away. And it's about how people react to that rumor. There's nothing particularly surprising about the direction the story goes (it's fairly short), but Rusch is always a good storyteller. (7)

"The Music of the Sphere" by Norman Spinrad: I've had mixed feelings about Spinrad's fiction (and some of his essays), but I liked this story, despite its implausibility. It's set in the near future, featuring an expert in cetaceans and dolphin perception and a composer obsessed with both loud music and classical musical style. Just from that description, you can probably predict much of the story, but I thought it had some neat ideas about dolphins, whales, and alternate perception and aesthetics. (Note: neat, not necessarily biologically plausible.) Enjoyable. (6)

"Bring on the Rain" by Josh Roseman: In a change of pace from the rest of the issue, this is a post-apocalyptic story of caravans of wheeled ships traversing a scorched and ruined landscape in search of weather systems and rain. The feel is of an inverted Waterworld, but with more emphasis on military tactics and cooperating fleets. The transposition of fleet maneuvers to huge ground vehicles adds some extra fun. The plot has little to do with the background and is a fairly stock military adventure scenario, but it's reasonably well-told. The story feels like an excerpt from a larger military-SF-inspired adventure, but the length keeps the quantity of tactics and maneuvering below the threshold where I would get bored. (6)

"Twelvers" by Leah Cypess: This is a sharp and occasionally mean story of adolescent cruelty and alienation. Darla is a "twelver," a child who was carried an extra three months in the womb using newly-invented medical technology because of a belief in the advantages this would bring in later life. Unfortunately for all those who used this technique, what it also brought was a preternatural calm and an unusual reaction to emotions. Darla finds it almost impossible to get upset at anything, and that, of course, prompts the cruelty and abuse of other children. Most of the story is a description of that abuse, leading up to Darla stumbling into a nasty solution to her immediate problem. It's all very believable (well, apart from the motivating biology), but I didn't enjoy reading about it, and I'm certainly not convinced that the ending will lead to anything good. (5)

"The Messenger" by Bruce McAllister: This is a very short time travel story, where time travel is used to try to unwind old family pain. This world follows the unalterable history model: no changes to the past are possible, and anything you do in the past has already happened. The mechanics are mostly avoided. Instead, McAllister concentrates on his mother, his father, and their complex relationship. I would have needed a bit more background on the characters to care enough about them for the story to be fully effective, but while the heartstring-pulling is kind of obvious, it's still a solid story. (6)

"The Copenhagen Interpretation" by Paul Cornell: This is the most ingenious of the stories in this issue. It's set in a future world that extends what seemed to me to be pre-World-War-I great power politics, although there may be a hint of the Cold War. Great nations have reached a careful balance of power, and spies and secret services work to sustain that balance. The progatonist is one of those agents, making use of advanced technology like space folds in the service of a cause that he doesn't entirely believe in. Cornell mixes in mental conditioning, artificial people, space travel, and even aliens (maybe) in a taut thriller plot that, for me, gained a great deal from the unexplained strangeness of its background. If you like diving into the deep end and following a fast-moving plot against a background of strangeness, this is the sort of SF you'll enjoy. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2013-05-15

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