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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Asimov's, July 2004

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"Shady Grove" by Allen M. Steele
"Dinosaur Songs" by Kathleen Ann Goonan
"Daily Reports" by Robert Reed
"Forest For The Trees" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"Gwendolyn Is Happy To Serve You" by Eliot Fintushel
"The Fear Gun" by Judith Berman

ImageJuly's selection of stories includes a couple of wild rides, and a couple of less engaging pieces.

"Shady Grove" is another in Allen M. Steele's "Coyote Rising" series. I'm not a fan of getting my novels on the installment plan, and I've also been conflicted about previous entries in the series. On the one hand it's a welcome return to straight ahead, futuristic, extrapolative fiction; on the other hand it feels like a retelling of the myth of the founding of America, a rehashing of old and threadbare themes.

"Shady Grove" takes place after "Incident At Goat Kill Creek" from Asimov's April/May double issue. The battle of the rebels against the Western Hemisphere Union is joined in earnest when the Union attacks the rebel town of Defiance. Carlos and Wendy, characters who started as teenagers at the beginning of the series, survive the attack along with their daughter Susan. Carlos, also known by the nom de guerre Rigil Kent, thinks it's time to take the battle to the Union. Before that can happen, though, he wants to get the children of Defiance away from the coming storm.

Carlos and Wendy bring all the children on a long overland voyage to the town of Shady Grove, still safely hidden from the eyes of the Union. But Shady Grove may not be the refuge they thought it would be. Danger from an unexpected quarter awaits them, and a secret Carlos has kept from Wendy puts their daughter in mortal danger.

At the risk of echoing my review of the April/May Asimov's, I'll say that "Shady Grove" doesn't really stand up as an independent story. The threads that begin and end in this story aren't engaging enough to hold up its weight, and all the interesting stuff is left incomplete, to be picked up in the next installment. If you've enjoyed the series up to now, you'll no doubt appreciate this story. If you're picking up the story in the middle, you'll probably be disappointed.

Petite Fleur, Kathleen Ann Goonan's heroine in "Dinosaur Songs," is not particularly petite, nor dies she fit the standard definition of a feminine flower. She also has one of the more inventive of fictional ethnicities, half Lithuanian and half Nigerian.

Petite Fleur has a unique talent, the ability to intuit where and when dinosaurs will penetrate space time and appear in the modern world, attracted by Irish music performed by enthusiastic humans enamored of dinosaur song. Dinosaurs, you see, are not the dumb reptilian animals of science, but an advanced alien race who sent their DNA across the galaxy to Earth to escape destruction at the hands of an implacable enemy. Their song is like heroin to humanity, and their presence eagerly sought by both hedonists and governments, seeking to unlock the dinosaurs' secrets. Petite Fleur is a pawn in a war, but she has her own strategy for bringing an end to the manipulations of the militarists.

With this story Goonan's mastered the art of positing the opposite of the expected. It's delightfully imaginative and just plain weird.

In this time of ultraresistant bacteria, Robert Reed's bleak future of a world depopulated of mammalian life by pandemic is too close to reality for comfort. Editor Dozois warns us at the outset that, "There are brief scenes in this story that may be disturbing to some." No kidding, Gardner.

Which is not to say it isn't good. To the contrary. A kind of epistolary, "Daily Reports" is told through a series of updates written about the progress of Tichelle, a genetically engineered superbaby, by a day care provider for Tichelle's parents. It's an interesting device that lets Reed slowly spin out the reality of his empty and dangerous world, one glimpse at a time.

Depressing, yes, and all too plausible. But as with most of Reed's stories, intriguing, rewarding and fascinating.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch sets "Forest For The Trees" on the Oregon coast, in a moody, foggy, atmospheric town on a windy beach. Anne and Louisa are friends, fellow misfits at their provincial high school, prone to cutting school but solid students despite their absenteeism.

The forest of the title is petrified, exposed at the start of the story, as it is once every fifty years or so, by a hard winter that washed most of the beach out to sea. The forest was destroyed by a tidal wave four hundred years earlier. Louisa and Anne cut school to visit it, but Louisa senses souls trapped in the trees and wants to leave.

The story is about Louisa and Anne's friendship, about being trapped in a small town, and about assumptions and differences. The payoff at the end, though, just didn't feel sufficient for the setup. Perhaps the story suffers in comparison Kathleen Ann Goonan's compulsive destruction of the quotidian, but Rusch's heroines feel like they could be lifted from a new age Nancy Drew. There's nothing to dislike about this story, but neither is there much to love.

Gwendolyn of Eliot Fintushel's "Gwendolyn Is Happy To Serve You," is a waitress at a short order joint in New York. This is her story, told in her unique voice, about meeting the Professor who she marries, falling in love with a moose, and discovering her true nature.

Yes, it's that odd.

But odd in a very good way. It's a fable of the modern world that somehow manages to feel timeless and archetypal, despite being told by a narrator who says things like:

 

"The Professor, he is always thinking about everything I have no idea, really. Which because of this it was better him moving into my place to live, because I saw his place once and, in a word: catastrophe."

Judith Berman's "The Fear Gun" takes place in the narrative space that follows the end of the movie, after the triumphant hero has found the one chink in the otherwise impervious armor of the seemingly omnipotent aliens. In a setting that's suspiciously reminiscent of the movie Independence Day, Berman establishes her characters in a small town in Idaho within sight of the crashed remains of an enormous alien spaceship.

Full disclosure: Judith is a friend of mine and an occasional contributor to Futurismic. I critiqued an earlier version of this story.

"The Fear Gun" is told from the perspective of a series of characters, beginning with the strung out, speed-addicted lookout Harvey Gundersen, and ending with Gundersen's alien-warped dog Fred. The small town of Lewisville has gotten along reasonably well since the end of the war, despite the heretofore complete breakdown of what was once the United States. Their success is due in no small part to the town's sherriff, an opportunistic latent dictator, and by the broad-based use of alien technology captured in periodic skirmishes with the surviving aliens, who still live amongst the ruins of their ship.

Lewisville's fortunes change with the arrival of a column from the reconstituted U.S. Army. The Army is under strict orders to confiscate all alien technology and "quarantine" its users. The Army is afraid of the fear gun, a weapon wielded by alien officers that is capable of inspiring crippling panic in its victims. The Army doesn't know how to use it, but they have empirical evidence that humans can, and they mean to stop anyone else from repeating the rebellion that led to the Yosemite massacres.

The townspeople are not likely to take the Army's heavy-handedness laying down. They have the bad luck to launch their rebellion just as an alien raid strikes the town. In the ensuing melee, the Army is victorious, but don't think that's the end of the story. Fred has his own plans for the people interned at Lewisville.

This is a story without a particularly likeable character, unless you count big-hearted Fred. In the words of one of the characters, it's a story about, "Fear, manipulation and mind control," and about the real monsters in human nature. It inspires a kind of grim fascination that propels you all the way to the end.

Jeremy Lyon is a freelance writer, tech industry cube farmer and the publisher of Futurismic, a site for people interested in the future and the effects of science and technology on the present, now featuring original fiction.