"The Convert" by Simon Ings
"Candy Art" by James Patrick Kelly
"Lying to Dogs" by Robert Reed
"In Father Christmas’s Court" by Tavis Allison
"Her Father’s Eyes" by Kage Baker
"Glorious Destiny" by Allen M. Steele
Asimov’s regulars fill four spots in the December 2002 issue, along with an impressive debut story by Tavis Allison and a novelette by veteran British author Simon Ings. This is a strong end to 2002 for Asimov’s, with the final novella in Allen M. Steele‘s "Coyote" series, and an excellent story by Robert Reed.
Ings opens the issue with "The Convert," in which a man’s ability to literally see money drives another man mad. Tom, the narrator, is an experimental subject with an implant in his brain that lets him perceive the ebb and flow of the tides of money that wash through the financial world. His employer, Sylvia Florianopolis, uses him to get at Conor McVaugh, an immensely wealthy entrepreneur. McVaugh becomes obsessed with Tom’s new senses and develops a theory that the world of money is alive and intelligent. There are a lot of interesting ideas packed into this story, but they overwhelm the characters, none of whom are much more than types. Sylvia is the driven, amoral scientist; McVaugh is the idealistic and guilt-ridden billionaire; and Tom is a cypher, who just drifts through the story, watching. There are hints at the end of a more allegorical meaning behind the story, but they remained hints, never quite becoming coherent.
"Candy Art" is a relatively minor short story by James Patrick Kelly, but it fits the holiday season. Romantic troubles plague Jennifer, a middle-aged delivery woman, and her boyfriend Mel, a freelance candy designer, during the holiday system. Meanwhile, her parents, who uploaded themselves years ago, have now decided to live with her by sharing a robot body. According to the author’s note, the story was originally written as an exercise at Clarion, and it has a somewhat tossed-off air to it. Pleasant enough, but not terribly memorable.
Robert Reed is a fixture in the sf magazines, his stories ranging from extremely hard far-future sf to horror and fantasy. "Lying to Dogs" takes off from Arthur C. Clarke’s short story "The Star," as the crew of the Feynman Observatory on the far side of the Moon discovers the first transmission from an extraterrestrial civilization. The fate of that civilization is what forces the narrator, a priest in the Church of Darwin, into an extremely difficult moral situation. What I found most impressive about the story, beyond the strong characters and rich background, was Reed’s ability to dramatize the moral dilemma Xavier faces without resorting to tidy didacticism or hollow ambiguity. Further, the dilemma stems directly from the science fictional premises of the story, and could not have occurred without those premises. Many sf stories may present their characters with difficult moral quandaries, but do not root the difficulties in the sfnal premises. They may be fine literature but suffer a bit as science fiction; Reed’s story does not.
Neuroscientist Tavis Allison makes a strong debut with "In Father Christmas’s Court," his first fiction sale. The milieu is standard, with a war between Earth and its orbital colonies, rogue AIs, and the like, but Allison uses these props to make a delicate investigation of the meaning of loyalty. Thomas was sent to Earth from the orbital colony Novaverde to try to shut down the rogue AI Septimo, who now calls himself "Father Christmas." Thomas is captured, reprogrammed to be loyal to Father Christmas, and when another man from Novaverde is captured, is given the assignment of breaking him. Allison does an excellent job of simultaneously convincing us of the strength of Thomas’s loyalty to Father Christmas while making it clear how artificial that loyalty is. Thomas is an absolutely convincing character, and his fate at the end of the story is moving. My only real quibble is with the ending. Allison was clearly shooting for an ambiguous note at the end, and while it does end on such a note, I’m not sure he hit the note he wanted. This is, nonetheless, an excellent and promising debut.
A young girl has an unsettling encounter on a train in the aftermath of World War II in Kage Baker‘s "Her Father’s Eyes." Sitting next to a frightened young boy, she slowly realizes the terrifying truth about his adopted parents. Baker skillfully employs a child’s perspective, and the ambiguous ending manages to link the common childish fear of being different with the larger moral issues raised by the story’s setting.
"Glorious Destiny" is the final story in Allen M. Steele‘s "Coyote" series, or at least the conclusion to the first "Coyote" series. After stealing the starship Alabama, surviving the long voyage to Coyote, and establishing a colony which has found some stability, the long-suffering people of the town of Liberty are finally beginning to feel at home. This, of course, is the moment at which a second starship from Earth, the titular Glorious Destiny, makes its appearance, and the colonists face an unpleasant set of choices. An admirable trait of this series is its accessibility to readers who have not read every installment. I’ve missed several previous stories, but still found this concluding story engaging. A large cast of characters is skillfully managed, and the choice that the people of Liberty make is pleasantly realistic, though also an obvious setup for a sequel. This is a strong conclusion to a generally impressive series.