Asimov's Science Fiction

September 2011

Cover image

Editor: Sheila Williams
Issue: Volume 35, No. 9
ISSN: 1065-2698
Pages: 112

Due to various other life priorities, it's been quite a while since I read this magazine. Let's see if I can remember the contents well enough to review it properly.

The editorial this issue was about the Readers' Awards. Vaguely interesting, but Williams didn't have much to add beyond announcing the winners. I'm very happy to see Rusch's "Becoming One with the Ghosts" win best novella, though.

The Silverberg column was more interesting: some musings and pop history about the Japanese convention of a retired emperor and how that fit into national politics. Di Filippo's book review column is all about short story collections, continuing the trend of Di Filippo mostly being interested in things I don't care about.

"The Observation Post" by Allen M. Steele: A bit of alternate history set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but with airships. The protagonist was a radioman aboard a blimp that was patrolling the ocean for Russian vessels sailing to Cuba. A storm forces them down on an island, resulting in an encounter with some claimed tourists who may be Russian spies.

The SFnal twist is unlikely to come as much surprise to an experienced reader, and the barb at the end of the story suffers from the same problem. I appreciate the ethical dilemma, but I've also seen it in lots of stories and have a hard time getting fully invested in another version of it. But the story is otherwise competently written. (6)

"D.O.C.S." by Neal Barrett, Jr.: Everyone has an author or two that they just don't get. Barrett is one of mine, although this story is a bit less surreal than most of his. I'm fairly sure it's an odd twist on the "death panel" conspiracy theory given a fantastic twist, but it's not entirely forthright about what's going on. Possibly of more interest to those who like Barrett better. (5)

"Danilo" by Carol Emshwiller: Emshwiller's stories are always distinctive and not quite like anyone else's, involving odd outsiders and their attempts to make sense of their world. This one involves, as is common, an out-of-the-way village. Lewella claims that she's going to be married to a stranger from the north. No one believes her, although they give her bridal gifts anyway, and then one day she takes her gifts and leaves. The protagonist follows her, to look after her. The rest of the story walks the boundary that Emshwiller often walks, leaving the reader unsure whether the characters are in touch with some deeper reality or insane and suffering, but the ending is even more ambiguous than normal and, at least for me, entirely unsatisfying. (4)

"Shadow Angel" by Erick Melton: This is another retread of an old SF idea. This time, it's that piloting through hyperspace involves alternate modes of consciousness and has profound effects on the pilot. The risk of this sort of story is that it turns hallucinatory and a bit incoherent, and I think that happened here. I like the world-building; the glimmers of future politics and trade and the way he weaves alternate timelines into the story caught my interest. But the story wasn't quite coherent enough (although part of this may be reviewing it quite some time after I originally read it). Promising, but not clear, and without quite enough agency for the protagonist. (6)

"The Odor of Sanctity" by Ian Creasey: I found this story more memorable. The conceit is that a future society has developed technology that allows the capture and replay of scents, which has created a huge market for special scent experiences and the triggering of memories. The story is set in the Philippines and revolves around a Catholic priest who takes the mission to the poor seriously. He's dying, and several people wonder if it is possible to capture the mythical odor of scantity: the sweet scent said to follow the death of a saint rather than the normal odor of human death.

Creasey handles this idea well, blending postulated future technology, the practical and cynical world of the poor streets, and a balance between mystical belief and practical skepticism. Nothing in the story is that surprising, but I was happy with the eventual resolution. (7)

"Grandma Said" by R. Neube: This story's protagonist is a cleanser on a frontier planet made extremely dangerous by a virulent alien fungus. It is almost always fatal and very difficult to eradicate. Vic's job is to completely sanitize anything that had been in contact with a victim and maintain the other rules of strict quarantine required to keep the fungal infection from spreading uncontrolled. Nuebe weaves world-building together with Vic's background and adds a twist in the form of deeply unhealthy responses to the constant stress of living near death. Well told, if a bit disturbing. (7)

"Stalker" by Robert Reed: Reed has a knack for fascinating and disturbing stories, and this is an excellent example of the type. The protagonist is a manufactured companion who is completely devoted to its owner. Their commercial name is Adorers, but everyone calls them Stalkers. In this case, the protagonist's owner is a serial rapist and murderer; given that, and given how good Reed is at writing these sorts of stories, you can probably imagine how chilling it is. As usual, there is a sharp barb in the ending, and not the one I was expecting. Good if you can handle the graphic violence and disturbing subject material. (7)

"Burning Bibles" by Alan Wall: This is an interesting twist on the spy thriller. A three-letter agency in charge of investigating possible terrorist plots becomes suspicious after a warehouse of Bibles burns in mysterious circumstances. The agent they send in is a deaf-mute with special powers of intuition. This prompted some eye-rolling, and there's a lot of magic disability powers here to annoy, but it's played mostly straight after that introduction. The rest is a fairly conventional spy story, despite special empathic powers, but it's one I enjoyed and thought was fairly well-written. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2014-03-31

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