Asimov’s, February 2011
“The Choice” by Paul McAuley
“Out of the Dream Closet” by David Ira Cleary
“Waster Mercy” by Sara Genge
“Planet of the Sealies” by Jeff Carlson
“Shipbirth” by Aliette de Bodard
“Brother Sleep” by Tim McDaniel
“Eve of Beyond” by Bill Prozini and Barry N. Malzberg
Reviewed by Bob Leishman
Lucas is sixteen years old, makes his living from the sea and loves to sail his boat out on the open water. He lives with his mother, Julia, on a small island. His generation was the one that came along after mankind’s first contact with aliens.
Although the aliens have never shown themselves they did offer technology which, among other things, would help planet Earth solve its environmental problems. But social upheaval after the alien contact and global warming offered even more challenges. As the story opens, Damien, a close friend of Lucas, tells him that a “dragon” has beached itself nearby. (Dragons are apparently alien contraptions that perform some kind of work in Earth’s oceans.) They both sail over to take a look.
There’s an incident and for one of them there are consequences. In “The Choice” Paul McAuley takes us inside one person’s life to tell us how a historical event affected people decades later. It’s a well done must read.
I’m of the opinion that there should be some kind of science evident in science fiction. With this in mind “Out of the Dream Closet” by David Ira Cleary barely qualifies not because there are no amazing objects and such but because he can’t really connect us to them. He gives a few hints about how they might work, but not why they were created.
Sasha, who prefers to be called “Little Girl” is told that her father is dying. Instead of going to him immediately she putters around with a few of the amazing objects her world offers and hangs out with another character named Alistair Jones. Sasha is on some kind of psychological journey but in the end it comes out like a half finished fantasy.
Definitely not my cup of tea.
Brother Beussy is a missionary who leaves the safety of a city to work with the people “outside.” His order has motivated him as well as given him a unique world view regarding personal sacrifice, and the harsh climate will certainly test him. But it isn’t until he meets a waster, a dweller of the outlands, that his values are challenged.
In “Waster Mercy” Sara Genge describes a post apocalyptic Earth. Residents of the city, like Brother Beussy, can live a life based on the old cultures. Outside of the city UV rays, and other things, have become a real problem but this has become the frontier for Brother Beussy.
Genge is good with the technical details but she also spends a lot of time developing her characters. That’s why I liked this story.
“Planet of the Sealies” is another post apocalyptic tale, but set in the far future. In this one Jeff Carlson has what’s left of humanity emerging from underground shelters to explore a planet that’s become alien to them. The story takes place at a type of archaeological dig. Through the characters we learn about the society which they came from–what humanity has become.
But this is still a dig and what they are digging for is what the story is all about. It has a nice twist which makes it worth reading.
Aliette de Bodard has a day job which involves computers, but her writing has more to do with Mesoamerican–specifically Aztec culture. In this story the latter has been taken to the stars.
Here technology is biomechanical and a ship, although apparently complete, requires a mind to guide it through space. These minds are carried and birthed by women much like a conventional pregnancy. Acoimi, the physician sent to help with the birthing, has to deal with complications of the delivery, the welfare of the woman in question and his own past.
“Shipbirth” tells us a lot about Aztec culture. It’s cleverly done and worth a read.
Tim McDaniel’s “Brother Sleep” finds us in the not so distant future when most people get by with very little sleep. The technology or the process which achieves this isn’t described here, but the effect on a particular college student is.
Horse is a Thai attending college in a city north of Bangkok. He was chosen by his family, before he was even born, to become a non-sleeper as part of an effort, which includes higher education, to break the family out of its lower class existence.
However, his roommate is a sleeper, someone who sleeps the way that Thais and the rest of humanity did prior to having an option.
Horse, like many other people, tend to look down on sleepers since they’re usually at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale and the fact that members of his own family are sleepers embarrasses him. But his girlfriend, Sky, is fascinated with the sleeper room mate. The story says a lot about expectations and upward mobility. “Brother Sleep” is a cute story that I had to finish.
“Eve of Beyond” by Bill Prozini and Barry N. Malzberg gives us a typical enough situation: a family run company is being threatened by a takeover. But then it gets a little creepy. The company’s founder and President, who is against the sale, was the first to offer clothing for the soon to be departed.
Let’s face it, people who are about to croak aren’t interested in buying clothing that’s going to outlast them and Eve of Beyond was simply developing a niche market. However, times have changed and business is business. This story is a must read.