Asimov’s, August 2012
Reviewed by Bob Blough
I was very happy to review this issue of Asimov’s as it is still my favorite SF magazine in physical or electronic print. However, I was not overly impressed this time. Many writers that I feel are some of the best in the business were not in their top form.
The first story is by Indrapramit Das, a relatively new writer. “Weep for the Day,” I believe, is the best story in the bunch. It takes place on a tidal locked planet. This planet has two species which fight for their homelands. One group has grown up on the “sunward side,” while the other inhabits the northern, colder, woods. The one group crawls out of the sun-locked side into the more livable equator. Thus the fighting begins between the two species. It is told from the viewpoint of the people now living on the equator while the others are vilified and are called “the Nightmares.” It is a good story with some surprises, but is mostly about our various responses to fear. I recommend this one.
“Heaven’s Touch” by Jason Sanford was one I really looked forward to, as I enjoy his writing. It did not reach his best efforts but is an interesting story nonetheless. It posits a spaceship sent to alter the orbit of a comet that will eventually destroy the Earth. Dusty and Parda have been sent to accomplish this task but religion gets in the way and the ship crashes on the comet. Dusty survives as does Parda’s AI (which is not completely Parda herself). The question of religion, and whether it is now possible (or desirable) to alter the comet’s trajectory are discussed and acted upon to a realistic end. A good story well worth reading.
The next is a novelette by Ian Creasey. It’s a sequel to an earlier Asimov’s story, but there is no need to have read the former to understand this one. It tells of a future world where human genetic engineering is allowed. One engineered type becomes “flyers.” This story “Joining the High Flyers” is about the culture of that group, and begins with interesting ideas of castles in the clouds, wars between various clades of flyers and the pride that comes with the flyers’ lifestyle. Rising in the rank seems to be everything. The problem for me is the story became more and more a “superhero” tale that I couldn’t take seriously. It lost any reality for me and while fun, was just another superhero tale with some very good visuals.
Gord Seller is a favorite author and I expected more for this one as well. It’s good but doesn’t raise itself above that sobriquet. “The Bernoulli War” is a fight in the far future between the grasshoppers and the ants and sports incomprehensible names like “!pHEnteRMinE3H4n%jmAGic.” This kind of thing I admit I usually love. It does bring into it the idea of the Cosmic Christ from Christian scientist Tielhard de Chardin which makes the tale a bit deeper, but nothing is explored enough to make it fascinating. Interesting, but that’s not quite enough.
The next author is another favorite, and though this story smoothly written as is everything by Theodora Goss, the plot is too thin to hold up as a story. A female scientist decides to look into “Beautiful Boys” who she describes as being between 22-29, height: 5’ 11” and 6’ 2,” weight: 165-195 lbs. Her description:
“They look like the models in cigarette ads. Lean, muscular, as though they can work with their hands. As though they had shaved yesterday. As though they had just ridden a horse in a cattle drive, or dug a trench with a backhoe.
They smell of aftershave and cigarette smoke.”
The scientist becomes involved professionally and personally with this group. She believes them to be aliens living in our midst. Interesting but not fleshed out enough to be really memorable.
I was most excited to see a new short story by Ted Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds was one of my favorite writers of short SF in the late 70s and early 80s. After his first and only novel (from the Ace SF Special line) I never saw his byline again. Well, I can’t say that “View through a Window” was worth all the wait but it is a nicely set up horror/mystery/SF story that while not memorable was still a pleasant read. The writing is still muscular but the story about a sick person in a revolving hospital in space who witnesses a murder – at least some of it – is a bit lackluster. My hope is that he will continue to write and give us more work like “Can These Bones Live?,” “Through All Your Houses Wondering,” “Ker-Plop,” and others.
I really appreciate Aliette de Bodard’s Mayan/Chinese world stories. I especially like those set in the far future with her complicated spaceships. Somehow “Starsong” felt like a lesser one, but I still loved it. It concerns a pilot/ship of Mayan ancestry named Axatl and her past life with a Chinese boy. Their struggle with their racial issues and peer pressure form the balance of the story with interjections of Axatl the pilot/ship looking back on her life.
The final story is one of the very few SF stories I can think of which uses stamp collecting as an integral part of the story (Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith is another one). But if anyone can pull it off it is Bruce McAllister. “Stamps” is told in a minor key and concerns itself with aliens coming to Earth during the Cuban missile crisis in order to avert nuclear war. The narrator is T’Phu’Bleem, one of ten Arcturians on the planet to save and eventually reveal themselves to the world. He begins collecting postage stamps to understand these earthlings:
“These stamps were like a puzzle, one that could explain how human beings actually thought and felt…If he didn’t try to figure that puzzle out for the sake of the human race and the Ten Galactic Principles, who would?”
It is a pleasant story that lingers in the mind as an unusual way of describing first contact.
All these stories are enjoyable and should be read, even if none of them are of the truly amazing variety. Enjoy the issue. I did.