Asimov’s, July 2006

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"You Will Go to the Moon" by William Preston
"Snail Stones" by Paul Melko
"Nano Comes to Clifford Falls" by Nancy Kress
"The World and Alice" by L. Timmel Duchamp
"Impossible Dreams" by Tim Pratt
"Bitterseed" by Ted Kosmatka
"The Djinn’s Wife" by Ian McDonald
"Fireflies" by Kathe Koja
"You Will Go to the Moon" by William Preston is a quiet tale, told from the point of view of a man whose aging parents decided to go to a retirement colony on the moon. The story explores the relationship between the narrator and his parents, and it really isn’t about the moon at all, but about the distances that separate us from those we love—emotionally as well as physically. The moon serves as a lovely metaphor for both the distancing that comes with growing up, and for all the unachievable things we long for. And of course when unachievable turns into available, it is always disappointing.

Mr. Preston’s story is an excellent opening to this issue. This short, melancholy tale captures the mood of unease and longing for all the things lost forever.

"Snail Stones" by Paul Melko is a fun story, set in an alien world. Two kids, Edeo and Haron, live on a planet that has been colonized by people to the point of near extinction of local flora and fauna. Among the almost extinct are the snails—very large snails that can grow gems on their shells. As the protagonists soon discover, anything that makes gems has enough value to attract the unscrupulous.

Many of Mr. Melko’s previous stories are about young protagonists, and his skill in depicting them is quite impressive. His heroes come across as neither too adult nor too juvenile, but with just the right mix of mischief, defiance, and empathy. A great read.

"Nano Comes to Clifford Falls" by Nancy Kress is an interesting take on the old curse, "May all your wishes come true." In this case, wish-fulfillment comes not from magic but from nanotechnology. The town acquires the machines that can manufacture anything, from food to diapers to cars to houses. Any reader can guess that things are about to go wrong, and indeed they do, but Ms. Kress does more than just depicts the downfall of the decadent and the spoiled. The story presents an interesting split between those who willfully resist the new technology and those who fall into it. Even though I didn’t especially like the narrator, I found the story well worth a read for the interesting examination of the familiar theme.
"The World and Alice" by L. Timmel Duchamp is a lovely, profound tale of a woman who doesn’t feel grounded in the world. It is a very moving story, and the speculative element, while pronounced, works mostly to illuminate the complexities of the character, and her struggle to belong to the world. With its echoes of Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, "The World and Alice" rings both strange and familiar, and the reader feels a strong sense of identification with the protagonist (especially if this reader had once had a grandmother who was their whole world.)
"Impossible Dreams" by Tim Pratt is another twist on an old idea—Pete, a movie buff and a bit of a recluse, finds a strange video store, where he discovers many unexpected treasures—"I, Robot" written by Harlan Ellison, and the director’s cut of "The Magnificent Ambersons," with all lost footage restored, and with commentary by Orson Welles. But this story is a bit more than just a magic shop that appears and disappears at will; Mr. Pratt creates a fascinating twist on parallel universes, the technological incompatibilities they create, and alternate movie history. If you love movies, this story will have you giggling and sighing at the presented possibilities. At the same time, this is a story of two people from different worlds, whose love of movies is greater than the rift between their universes.

"Bitterseed" by Ted Kosmatka is another off-world story, and an interesting variation of the Cain and Abel myth. Two twins, jealous Eli and favored Marc, work on a planet dedicated mostly to maiza—a genetically improved corn. Eli abandons Marc one day, and the story of Marc’s search to return back to the base and his reminiscences on his relationship with his brother constitute the bulk of the story. While I found characterization to be a bit predictable, the story of Marc’s journey is fascinating.
"The Djinn’s Wife" by Ian McDonald is an appealing, vibrant mix of Indian myth and Bollywood, past and future, and love and betrayal. This is the story of a dancer who falls in love with an AI diplomat. Mr. McDonald skillfully explores parallels between the djinni of legend and artificial intelligences of the future; like Nancy Kress’ story, "The Djinn’s Wife" deals with technology that is indistinguishable from magic in its effects, and as such serves not to explore future technologies, but to elucidate the complexities of human nature. And it succeeds brilliantly at that.

Set in colorful Delhi as it exists in fairytales and soap operas, this is an engrossing tale, and perhaps my favorite in this outstanding issue. The prose is wonderfully dense with Hindu words, and the exotic images of gods and heroes of antiquity and the technology of the future come to life on the page.

"Fireflies" by Kathe Koja is a very short, very poignant tale that is impossible to summarize without giving too much away and flailing while trying to explain something that cannot be put into words. In this story, two people sit on a porch, drink beer, and watch fireflies. But the story itself is not about beer or fireflies, it is about the nature of the universe and the meaning of life.

The issue closes on this note of regret and quiet wonder, similar to the opening story, and I applaud the editor, Sheila Williams, for putting together such a cohesive issue, where stories play off each other and create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.