Asimov’s, March 2011
“Clean” by John Kessel
“Where” by Neal Barrett, Jr.
“I Was Nearly Your Mother” by Ian Creasey
“God in the Sky” by An Owomoyela
“Movement” by Nancy Fulda
“The Most Important Thing in the World” by Steve Bein
“Lost in the Memory Palace, I Found You” by Nick Wolven
“Purple” by Robert Reed
Reviewed by Robert E. Waters
Eight stories fill the pages of the March 2011 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. First up is “Clean” by John Kessel. Here we have a near future where a person can be cured of Alzheimer’s by having some (or all) of his/her memories erased. Jinny’s father is suffering from the disease and has decided to try the procedure. But the relationship between Jinny and her mother and father is strained, and this creates a lot of tension. What should she do? Should she allow the procedure at all? Is this nothing more than a ploy by her old boozy mom to rid herself of an absent-minded man? It’s a tough situation and I can imagine that, if we ever have a procedure like this, similar battles would be waged. If they do nothing, he dies of the disease. If they let it happen, he forgets them entirely. Tough, tough call. I didn’t like this story at first. None of the characters are very likeable and Jinny is the worst of the lot. But Kessel has a great narrative that unfolds as we read, and he ties everything up in a nice thematic knot that I found quite satisfying.
In his preface, Neal Barrett, Jr. tries to explain the nature of his story “Where”… “It is no secret I don’t ever explain,” he says, and that’s certainly true for this story. We have a set of kids doing something in some kind of environment. It seems to me that they’re occupying a virtual social networking site, but it’s never explained. They are doing things that seem important to them, but again, it’s never explained. All of their names are spelled in lower case, and why is never explained. I’m sure there are some who will enjoy expending the effort to figure it all out. I, unfortunately, did not.
“I Was Nearly Your Mother” by Ian Creasey is about a teenager named Marian who’s lost her mother to a car accident. But one day, an “alternate” mother named Della comes to visit, crossing a sea of alternate worlds, to find the daughter she almost had. She tries to make peace with her and capture the time lost between them. Bitter and annoyed by the intrusion, Marian is very resistant to this, but tries to make the best of it. Things, however, do not work as planned and bad stuff inevitably happens. Like a number of stories in this issue, there are touching moments here, but I found Marian to be, on the one hand, annoyingly shallow, and on the other, too intellectually attuned to the psychological ramifications of this newfound parent. That vast difference in personality traits was difficult to buy.
New writer An Owomoyela’s “God in the Sky” begs the age-old question: Is there a God? And if so, how will He reveal Himself to the masses? Here, He appears as a new light in the sky, not as big as the moon, but pretty big nonetheless. Science can’t explain it, so what’s the world to do? While everyone around Katrina tries to figure it out and apply some spiritual and/or mystical meaning to it, Katrina stays rational and attempts to calm concerns. She’s a scientist and so there must be a scientific reason behind this new “light.” This story reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons, where Lisa discovers a skeleton that looks like an angel, and while everyone in town believes it’s so, she’s the only sane voice in the bunch. So the premise here is nothing new, but I liked it. The author has a good, clean style and the relationship between Katrina and her grandfather is charming.
“Movement” by Nancy Fulda is interesting but a little annoying. Here we have Hannah who has what is called “temporal” autism, an affliction that allows her to connect with the flow of space and time. She can reach a consciousness that transcends normal thought, but her parents want her to receive a medical procedure that would make her behave like a normal teenager. And while this dilemma provides an appropriate conflict for the story, the rest of it boils down to nothing more than diatribes by Hannah as she tries explaining to the reader why she’s evolving into something beyond understanding. I liked the writing; very vivid and descriptive, but I found the main character to be a pretentious snob. She’s a teenager, and I suppose they are pretentious snobs sometimes (like Marian in Creasey’s story), but it didn’t play well with me.
Steve Bein‘s “The Most Important Thing in the World” is a good story with a good heart, albeit a little long. Ernie Sisco is a cabby down on his luck: he’s overweight, balding, can’t make enough money on fares, and his woman done left him. But when a young Harvard grad student leaves a curious package in his cab, Ernie’s life changes. The package contains a kind of time travel suit; actually, it’s more of a “borrowed time” suit, where the person wearing it can borrow time from the future. As you might expect, Ernie tries using the suit to solve his problems, but this is a risky proposition. I mean, stopping time and stealing from convenience stores never works even in the best of times. Eventually, Ernie and the student meet up again and they develop a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s a good story; as stated, a bit long, but worth the read.
“Lost in the Memory Palace, I Found You” by Nick Wolven has that snappy, fast-paced dialogue one finds in the best Cyberpunk. It works pretty well here too, as our protagonist experiences memory loss on a grand scale. Ray is kind of an on-line graphics designer who’s desperate to recover the memories of a girl he once knew. Along the way, he suffers further memory loss as the stresses of his virtual existence begin to exact its pound of flesh. Eventually he finds a kind of truth but one that isn’t very satisfying to him, and frankly, not to me either. As stated, I liked the dialogue and its pacing, but we never really know why Ray is losing his memories. Perhaps it’s implied, but I would’ve preferred a more direct explanation.
We end with Robert Reed’s “Purple,” a rather depressing, but eloquently written account of a “collector” entity who maintains a menagerie of wayward alien species (humans, cat and bird-like creatures, etc.). All of the samples in “The Master’s” collection are broken in some way, emotionally and/or physically. The Master does its best to fix these problems to make their time in its presence as comfortable as possible. Our POV character is Tito, a blind cripple who is passed around as a kind of plaything for the female humans in the collection. Tito doesn’t like this treatment and is eventually attacked by a woman whose advances he rejects. As stated, this is a very well-written and moving piece. Reed does a fine job in showcasing Tito’s life both pre- and post-alien abduction. The story only begins to break down near the end when Tito is returned to Earth. The final segment seems rushed and I couldn’t quite figure out exactly what Tito intended to do with his freedom. Otherwise, a fine story and a good ending to an average issue.