Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 2007

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.
"Fountain of Age" by Nancy Kress
"Bullet Dance" by John Schoffstall
"Congratulations from the Future!" by Michael Swanwick
"Roxie" by Robert Reed
"The Sky Is Large and the Earth Is Small" by Chris Roberson
"The Trial" by Brian Stableford

Nancy Kress
leads the July 2007 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction with yet another example of her uncommon ability to provide both an exciting plot and a deep character study in one well-balanced piece of writing. In "Fountain of Age," 86-year-old former criminal Max Feder is living—or rather waiting to die—in a retirement center when he loses the one thing that is meaningful to him, an object that provides a link to the past and to the woman he loved. This loss launches Max on a journey out of the retirement home and on a quest to replace his lost talisman, through connections with his past and with the present, in a world that has given him much but has taken more.

Telling his own story, Max fairly jumps off the page in all of his flawed reality. The reader can almost hear his voice as he "lays it on thick" for ignorant goyim, or see the sneer on his face as he describes modern women with their genemod bodies. Despite his past, or maybe because of it, it is easy to empathize with this old man as he exorcizes his demons.

In this novella, Kress not only offers a future world of technological advancement with its attendant costs, but a future informed by real-world history and culture, and by the human condition with its essential themes of memory and desire, loss and hope.

John Schoffstall introduces us to Clio, daughter of the American ambassador to Egypt. As a child, Clio is visited nightly by shadowy, but seemingly benevolent, death gods, who teach her the intricate and portentous "Bullet Dance." As she grows older, these strange figures fade from her memory, and she believes that they were only childish fancy, until the moment arrives that she must perform the dance and meet her unexpected destiny.

This beautifully told story has a fairy-tale feel, with lovely language, haunting imagery, and gorgeous description—the sort of telling perfectly fit to explore the passing of childhood with its magic and promise into the sometimes painful responsibilities and sacrifices of adulthood.

Michael Stanwick‘s "Congratulations from the Future!" comes as a bit of a jolt among all this serious, introspective fare.  It is a buoyant missive from a "future virtual reconstruction" of the author, congratulating Asimov’s on its 30th anniversary. This is a mildly amusing short piece, with many references to popular SF writers.

In "Roxie," Robert Reed intersperses the poignant details of caring for a beloved pet in failing health with news of an ominous and growing threat from a stray bolide on a collision course with Earth. The story is pervaded by a sense of inevitability, but not of hopelessness—no mean feat.

This is definitely the most introspective story of this issue, so much so that the narrator seems isolated. It appears there is almost no one else in the world but this man and his dog. Other humans appear on the periphery, but the reader never gets to know them. In fact, until two-thirds of the way into the story, I thought the narrator’s wife was dead or had left him, since she seemed only to be a presence from the past until that point. I also often forgot about the young daughter, who flitted in and out of the narrative without stopping to truly make herself known. Although I found it a bit confusing, this isolation did focus my attention on the narrator and his internal struggle with certain loss and less certain doom.

"The Sky Is Large and the Earth Is Small" is an intriguing tale from Chris Roberson‘s alternate world, in which dynastic China, instead of Western Europe, rose to world domination. Cao Wen, a low-level scholar in the Ministry of War, seeks a "guest" held by the emperor’s secret police, the Embroidered Guard. It appears that this prisoner, Ling Xuan, traveled across the sea to the Mexica years before and may have information for Cao Wen’s report to the Minister of War, a report that could make or break Cao’s career.  Expecting to quickly extract the necessary information from an old and broken prisoner, Cao instead finds a man who is at once a canny bargainer and a philosopher who has more to offer than Cao expects.

In Ling Xuan, Roberson presents a fascinating character—enigmatic and frustrating, but human and empathetic. The setting, too, is rich and invites exploration. I will be seeking out more of Roberson’s work.

In Brian Stableford‘s "The Trial," Tom Wharton is a doctor conducting a clinical trial of a promising experimental treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. But his "Patient K" shows surprisingly rapid improvement with a disturbing unintended effect.

Stableford’s exploration of memory and its consequences is interesting, and his characterization is strong. However, I found myself pulled out of the action on numerous occasions by the overuse of adverbs and unusual dialogue markers. Characters who repeatedly "opined" or "retorted" instead of "said," or who often said things "blithely" distracted me from an otherwise fine story.