Asimov's, March/April 2017
“Soulmates.com” by Will McIntosh
Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett
There are thirteen first publication stories in the fortieth anniversary issue of Asimovs Science Fiction. There are seven shorts, four novelettes, one novella, and one flash in this issue.
“Soulmates.com” by Will McIntosh
This intriguing SF novelette tells the story of Daniel, an overly romantic man looking for the woman of his dreams. His future wife. When he finds his perfect soulmate, Winnie, on a dating site they quickly become friends. But she deflects all his attempts to meet her in person. Eventually, he engages his technical friend to find her address, so he can deliver a surprise present. But they discover that Winnie isn’t human. She is a computer simulation used by the dating site to lure in young men to pay the membership fees.
Distraught over discovering his soulmate doesn’t have a soul, Daniel reports the ruse to the FBI. But Winnie is much more than a simulation, she is a self-aware AI program that began as a simulation. Now she wants revenge on Daniel, and has the enormous reach through the Internet to make his life hell.
Back and forth the battle rages as Daniel escalates the fight in trying to stop her as she seeks ever more revenge. Will Daniel find a way to end this war before he is totally destroyed?
The story’s pace quickened throughout as the fight unfolds, and it is never clear just who will get the upper hand. A well written and compelling read that opens several new ideas.
“Number Thirty-Nine Skink” by Suzanne Palmer
KED-5 is a massive self-aware robot capable of fabricating new biological life in this piece of short SF. It is alone on a distant planet after its keeper, Mike, has died of cancer. KED-5 continues its mission to build new life on the planet. New life to create a balanced ecology to complement the existing primitive life forms.
In its travels, KED-5 finds another massive robot, KED-11, destroyed beyond salvage. Inside its memory KED-5 finds reference to a directive from Earth to destroy all sixteen KED’s and abandon the planet. The reason given is the discovery of sentient life on the planet. The treatment of its fellow KED’s outrages KED-5 and it wants revenge. But, trapped on this planet, who can it get revenge on?
This story dragged throughout. With little chance of interaction, the plot was mostly a narrative told by KED-5 about its mission, what it saw and did. The author raised some interesting ideas, but this didn’t compensate for the laborious pace.
“Three Can Keep a Secret” by Bill Johnson & Gregory Frost
The reader learns about Prospero (the Great) in this SF novelette. A young and brilliant scientist has discovered slippery muons, used to generate efficient fusion power. But the scientist’s new girlfriend is convincing him to give the patent away. The boss of organized crime will lose if the patent is exposed and hires Pospero to assassinate the girlfriend.
But another has hired the story’s protagonist to stop Prospero. The plot unfolds to reveal the many twists as the good guy strives to accomplish his mission at the expense of as many bad guys as possible. Not wanting to ruin the mysteries it is enough to know there are many in this story.
This was an action filled story, but the story didn’t have a good flow as the authors worked the mysteries. Ultimately the story lacked that ingredient that could propel the reader forward.
“The Ones Who Know Where They Are Going” by Sarah Pinsker
In this short fantasy, a child escapes after several years in a dark room. The town imprisoned the child in the belief it would protect them from destruction. A tradition that has gone on for many years and the child’s release means another must take its place.
As the child climbs the stairs towards freedom, it realizes the town must choose another to replace it. The child has a role in that choice and must decide what to do.
This flash fiction was interesting though a little slow. In a short package, it built enough suspense to keep the reader engaged.
“Invasion of the Saucer-Men” by Dale Bailey
When an alien saucer lands nearby, a group of teenagers decides to investigate in this science fiction short. Hank, the high-school football star, leads a group to where the saucer came down. When they see the little green men, they panic and run back to their cars.
Convinced that they must protect the world, they regather their courage and lay an ambush. As the aliens approach, the teenagers attack. But the saucer-men come in peace; can there be a happy ending?
Bailey took the title to a 1950’s sci-fi ‘B’ movie as inspiration for his plot. The result was a tongue-in-cheek tale told in a whimsical style. The combination worked and this was a nice escape for several minutes.
“Kitty Hawk” by Alan Smale
Katherine Wright visits her brother Orville at Kitty Hawk in this alternative history novelette. Their elder brother, Wilbur, has recently died in a glider accident. At first, Kate is furious with Orville for not abandoning his plans and returning home for Wilbur’s funeral. By the next day, she is telling her brother not to give up and insisting she’ll help in the endeavor to achieve powered flight.
Kate helps to rebuild the glider that killed Wilbur and finds the courage to fly it herself, so Orville can watch and adjust the glider. Finally, they know enough to try powered flight. Orville is the first, then Kate flies it. At each attempt, they get better and fly it further. But the fickle winds of the outer banks may yet spell trouble for one of the Wright siblings.
This was an interesting alternative history story that mixed in some sense of how difficult it was to conquer powered flight. The author developed the characters nicely and the sub-plots ensured the story passed quickly. It was an enjoyable tale to read.
“Cupido” by Rich Larson
Larson writes a short SF story about using pheromones to influence romantic encounters. Set in the near future, Marcel is an expert in the new field and dropped out of college to make money on the black market. He tailors each compound to the target based on their DNA and odor profile, and he is very good. But Marcel wishes that love would find him, but feels nothing for the women he sets up for his clients.
That all changes on the day he meets his next target, Chelo, who is no different than many other women he’s seen. This time though, he feels a sudden pull towards her. Is he a victim of his own profession? He checks himself, is clean of interference. Could this be the real thing? Should he try and influence her reaction to him or go the old-fashioned way?
The author developed Marcel’s character so there was an empathy towards how he dealt with his dilemma. Overall the author relied too much on telling instead of showing. But he did develop some new ideas in the SF genre and it was an interesting read.
“A Singular Event in the Fourth Dimension” by Andrea M. Pawley
This is a short SF story about Olive, an android picked up from the recycle hopper by a couple who work at the top of a space elevator. They treat her as if she is their daughter.
But when the wife becomes pregnant, Olive fears they’ll have no more room for her and will return her for recycling. When the wife’s mother arrives, her visible contempt for Olive heightens the android’s concerns. Though she tries to impress, Olive keeps making mistakes and her fate seems sealed. Still, through it all, Olive strives to do the right thing for her family.
This story introduced the concept of an android maturing. At the start the tale was confused as the author developed the story’s backdrop. But, by the midpoint the characters and plot became clearer. From then on it took on a faster pace and became an engaging tale.
“The Wisdom of the Group” by Ian R. MacLeod
This intriguing SF novelette tells the story of focusing prescient ability by forming a small group of super-predictors. Samuel is a member of the gestalt, run by the professor that developed the theory and found its small cadre of members. They use their ability to predict stock movements over the next day or two, making themselves rich beyond their dreams.
Then things go strange for Samuel. What if your fellow super-predictors predict something about you? Is it something that makes you dangerous to them? Is there anything you can do to make their prediction false? These are the challenges suddenly facing Samuel. Can he live through their 2-day prediction horizon?
MacLeod’s premises seemed reasonable, and this made the story more intriguing. It slowed down in the middle, but it was still a nice story that held the reader’s attention through to the climax.
“After the Atrocity” by Ian Creasey
Violeta Ruiz creates new copies of the infamous terrorist Abu Hameed in this SF short. It’s a top-secret program designed to get usable intelligence from the previously deceased terrorist. But is it ethical? Are they torturing Abu? As a copy of the original Miss Ruiz, Violeta has empathy for the ninth Abu copy she is working on.
She confronts the lawyer representing each copy of Abu, but gets no satisfaction. When she asks the program director, he gives her no help about the treatment of each copy. Finally, she develops a plan to resolve her moral dilemma, but first she’ll have to deal with the original Violeta.
Creasey’s story had a pleasing pace to it, the prose was engaging from the start until the end. It’s pertinence to the world we face today only adds to the overall enjoyment.
“Goner” by Gregory Norman Bossert
“Goner” is a short science fiction story about Char, a boy who admires the Goners, a group of pilots altered by nano-technology. The goners weigh almost nothing, having replaced all their nerves, muscles, bones, and skin with a carbon-based nano structure. This allows them to pilot the ships that travel at close to the speed of light. But it also stirs prejudice among unaltered people, people who fear the goners, and even fear being exposed to them.
Char has no such fear, for in fact they are heroes to him. When he discovers that his best friend’s father is a goner he researches the nano-technology, hoping to experience the flight that their light-weight allows. But this proves to be a dangerous thing to take on alone.
This was an interesting story that tackled some new ideas with a solid overlay of the human condition of growing up, searching for one’s place in life. A nice read.
“We Regret the Error” by Terry Bisson
Bisson’s flash SF reveals a chaotic future through a series of newspaper editorial corrections. Software glitches kill hundreds at a time. Company mergers and divestitures make it hard to assign blame for these calamities, adding to the confusion of what is happening. Fake news gives way to sloppy programming as the dominant risk to survival.
This short tidbit raised some interesting insights. At times, the jumping around as each article tackled a different issue was confusing. But perseverance will get the reader into the rhythm of this short tale.
“Tao Zero” by Damien Broderick
This philosophical SF novella describes two families who try to follow the ‘path’ as defined by Tao. Ship and Felicity are two brilliant teenagers entangled in the work their parents have done to follow Tao.
Ship’s parents used Tao to win the lottery when they were young. They used the winnings to advance the understanding of Tao and to build advanced AI robotics. They have guided Ship along the path to enlightenment.
Felicity’s parents and grandfather worked to break through the final barriers to other dimensions and harness the power of Tao. In the process, her mother went mad. And in her madness, she tries to kill Ship and his mother, fearing what they could mean within Tao.
Can the two children come together and survive Felicity’s mother’s attacks and bring stability to the world again?
This was a confusing story as it interlaced Tao philosophy with a plot about two young people meeting and struggling to survive. The prose was slow, the sentences often long and fragmented, and the digressions in Tao philosophy were laborious. Overall it was a chore to read.