Saturday, January 25, 2014

Asimov's Science Fiction February 2014

We get three novelettes, four short stories and five poems in this edition of the magazine and we start with 'Schools of Clay' from Derek K nsken which takes to a more alien environment than we usually see in general science fiction. Diviya had been a worker in the regolith fields of his asteroid homeland who had been raised up to the dizzying heights of doctor when the Powers deemed him suitable to have a soul. But Diviya's background meant that he fought the dictates of his soul as he repaired the damaged bodies of his fellow workers. To some degree the characters and their motivation were sort of familiar - most species will have similar motivations at the most basic levels just in order to survive however alien the implementation of that survival form. The forms of Diviya and his compatriots probably didn't look much like ants but that was the form of society that most came to mind when reading the story until we got to the exodus section which doesn't really act on the editorial introduction of using time travelling as an element even though it is a nice use of the relativistic temporal distortions. Again, it did drag a bit at this length but equally a shorter story wouldn't have done the descriptive stuff much good.

'The Long Death of Oxford Brown' by Jason K Chapman takes a look at that perennial favourite of science fiction of the last thirty years or so, the uploaded person. At 73 Oxford Brown is more than ready to follow his beloved wife onto the servers of AftrLyf and join her in whatever reality she had created there. But once the event had happened and he'd found himself in the AftrLyf arrivals area, he begins a journey both to track down his wife and an inner journey as he learns the rules of the strange worlds he now inhabited. As I've said, this type of story has been popular for an age but I've rarely read one that is so singularly focussed on the virtual word - it's not uncommon for the virtual denizens to be plotting some form takeover of the real world, or vice versa for that matter, but here the inhabitants are, by and large allowed a great deal of freedom. Oxford does eventually find his wife but also finds that their life together wasn't what he'd thought it had been. He also finds a new role for himself.

'Steppin' Razor' is from Maurice Broaddus and takes us to a more violent alternative history Jamaica that had freed itself from the thrall of the Albion Empire centuries ago despite sporadic efforts to retake the island. From the limited view we have of the empire, it doesn't sound very nice but the society that Broaddus posits for this version of Jamaica is little better with the more pure African peoples dominating their paler skinned fellows. Rastafarianism seems to be the dominant religion of a rather bewildering mixture of imported African and native beliefs and the current Colonel of the island aims to bring that under his control as he clones emperor Hallie SelassieThere were an interesting mixture of technology but Broaddus has fallen into a fairly common trap of assuming that no United States of America you wouldn't get heavier than air travel - the Americans may have been first but the technology was being actively developed in many places.

The first of the short stories, 'Ball and Chain', by Maggie Shen King takes an interesting look at the effects of China's one child per family and the desire for boys in the family that has led to many more men than women and the creation of polyandrous relationships. An interesting exploration of a problem that may not be around much longer as the Chinese government eases up on that one-child-per-family policy.

M Bennardo's 'Last Day at the Ice Man Caf ' takes a look at the closing day of the eponymous cafas Ulno and his waitresses Janice and Carol. Many years ago Ulno had been found frozen in a glacier and defrosted, to come back to life had his fifteen minutes of fame before retreating back to relative obscurity. Now as his latest venture closes down Ulno ponders his fate. I found this quite light.

'The Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province' by Sarah Pinkster tries an interesting experiment in some ways. The story is described largely in pictures, which themselves have to be described here. Yona had lost her photojournalist husband Oliver when he'd been attacked by a mob in Uganda and after compiling a photo compilation of his life. While still grieving for him, Yona is offered a shoot in South Africa so long as she consents to some security issues. There she finds the eponymous tribe who evince some strange traits that led to their rather unwieldy name. As a Jew herself, Yona finds the tribe's rituals comforting, if somewhat eldritch, as she comes to terms with the death of her husband. The end is left rather open ended as to whether Yona returns to 'civilisation'. I didn't particularly like the way the story was presented as a series of images but I suppose this was a way of showing Shona's photojournalistic chops. I did like the tribe itself though.

The final short story is Marissa Lingen's 'Ask Citizen Etiquette', a very short short story where we're presented with a series of etiquette related problems with decidedly science fiction elements. If you like this sort of thing in the regular press then you'd like these and even if you don't they should be amusing.

The poems were actually quite good this time starting with 'Watching the Orionids Meteor Shower' from Robert Frazier then 'Cloud Vortex' from G O Clark comparing a storm complex on Saturn with a New England sky; 'An Answer, At Last' by Greg Beatty providing an answer as to the state of Schrodinger's cat; 'She Says "Terrible Things Happen to Guys on Valentine's Day"' by Roger Dutcher who has a girlfriend who takes extreme measures to end the relationship and finally 'Gold Ring' from Ruth Berman who reminds us that not all lost rings change the fates of worlds but can still make individuals glow.

Frederik Pohl has been a presence in the field from his early teens as fan, writer and editor and his death late last year provides Sheila Williams a chance to provide a retrospective on his life, especially his role as an editor as he guided some of the biggest names of the field to their fullest potential.

In his 'Reflections' Robert Silverberg is 'Rereading Philip Jose Farmer'. PJF started writing way back in the early fifties when science fiction was effectively completely WASP dominated and completely sexless and Silverberg credits his novella 'The Lovers' in the August 1952 edition of 'Startling Stories' as the primary mover in breaking down this fortress. On reading it the first time round Silverberg tells us he was overwhelmed by the whole concept of the story including the erotic content (absolutely in context, mind). On reading more recently, he admits to finding flaws in the story - it was Farmer's first after all - but reckoned it was just as good the second time round as the first.

In his 'On Books' column Peter Heck opens with '' (Spectra) by Chris Moriarty which is the final volume in his 'Spin' trilogy. In this book, the protagonists of the first two, cyborg Catherine Li and the AI Cohen feature once more though Cohen has done the AI equivalent of blowing his brains out whilst on a mission of his own and Catherine's investigations into his death things start getting worse. This is followed up by Heck's look at '' (Del Rey) by Connie Willis. Next up is '' (Subterranean) by Catherine M Valente is another collection which presents a variety of her shorter tales mixing the everyday and mythic into spellbinding magic if you're into that sort of thing. '' (Baen) by Wen Spencer features Nikki Delany who has a mother determined to have her institutionalised, and as said mother is a US Senator, mother has a high degree of credibility. Nikki is able to escape her initial attempt and runs off to Japan to join up with a high school friend but as both women start the difficult process of acclimatising to the country the local Japanese police are attracted to Nikki when they overhear the two women discussing a plot element in her latest book. As she tries to persuade them it is only a story, she learns that a real murder has indeed occurred looking very like the plot outline (Castle in reverse!). '' (Subterranean) by Michael Marshall Smith translated into French by Benoit Domis and then back into English by Nicholas Royle could quite easily be a prime example of those fun examples we sometimes get of double translations run through something like Google Translate. Heck quite likes the original story, also dealing with translation, and with this edition, you get that original, the French translation and the retranslated text and even if your French isn't up to reading that version you can always compare the two English versions.
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