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Asimov's Science Fiction 336

by Gardner Dozois

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IASF Magazine, January 2004

The January 2004 issue begins the last year of Gardner Dozois’ reign of 19 years as editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, and gets the year off to a good start with a strong above average issue.

On the non-fiction side, Robert Silverberg’s “Reflections” essay opens the issue with a long discussion on the history of the consideration of extra-terrestrial life, and ends with the sad conclusion that even if “they” are out there, we and “they” shall never meet since the distances are just too far. Nothing really new here.

Paul Di Filippo reviews quite a few books this issue. Among the reviews, he more or less raves about Scott Westerfeld’s “The Risen Empire: Book One of Sucession”. There is also an index of all the articles and stories from the year 2003 that had been published in Asimov’s.

Brian Stableford’s “Nectar” leads off the stories in this issue. It is set in a 24th century society where people from the 21st century are still alive, having lived for hundreds of years as science progresses. Death is rare. Children are very very rare. Sara is one of the rare children. She attaches a rose to her smartsuit (which she has worn since birth) and attracts some unusual creatures, a flock of shadowbats, when she was hoping for hummingbirds. She tracks down the creator, known as the “Dragon Man”, and the story ensues. We learn the true nature of Sara’s society as she does. We become just a little immersed into the future world. This is a well written, engaging story. I liked it a lot.

“Embracing-The-New” by Benjamin Rosenbaum is only seven pages long but manages to do one of the things I like in science fiction short stories that are well done. In just a short piece of work we are shown a really vivid snapshot image of an alien society. The species has a symbiotic relationship with small creatures that they wear and who feed upon them, that are a bit like vampires perhaps, that contain the memories of the wearer as well as the ancestors who have worn them. We are not told so, but these symbiotes are apparently long-lived and can pass along several generations of memory.

It is a slightly creepy tale of an apprentice carver who is given a task by his rather repellant master to create a new god-carving for a festival. The apprentice, Vru, has been set up to us as feeling very unworthy within this society, barely hanging in there, and he pours himself into the creation. He feels full of the spirit of the new God he is creating and works tirelessly carving the new greenstone. In the end he is betrayed by his master and he in turn rebels with unfortunate consequences. A good story, although the end didn’t ring entirely true to me.

“Songs the Sirens Sing” by Mary Rosenblum was a good story that sort of got lost near the end. Abrim is an asteroid miner who drills for water and precious metals with the help of an organic AI piloted ship named Miriam. Miriam is built supposedly off Abrim’s DNA but is her own self and not a clone of Abrim. Miriam is every bit of a “real” character in the story as would be a human, if not more so. The interaction between Abrim and Miriam is enjoyable and felt “real” in the imaginary tale. Abrim and Miriam are concerned about pirates, after several recent disappearances of other miner ships. They become extra watchful when they find a great cache of valuable ice and begin mining it in a hurry in order to get a much needed bonus payment upon delivery.

Abrim’s brother, Shimon, unexpectedly arrives at their mining site and he pilots a different, perhaps state of the art mining ship and appears to have gotten himself into some sort of trouble, as he has come begging several times to Abrim to refuel him. The ships are “steam-powered” although we aren’t told much at all how that technology would work for piloting the miner ships around the asteroids. So the “fuel” consists of ice, which is worth a lot in deep space. Abrim helps him not only because of the brother relationship, but because of how Shimon had helped him repeatedly earlier in life in refugee camps and obtaining his own ship. The characters are well drawn and we get a good understanding of the complex relationship between the two brothers, as well as the AI.

When Shimon suddenly goes silent when Abrim is about to leave with his valuable mining cargo of ice, the story begins to slip a little. Rather than leaving as he was about on the verge to do, he feels the need to check on his brother, especially after his AI Miriam reports that the data she can access from the brother’s ship reveals Shimon to be in an unusual physical and mental state. Abrim is torn between caring for his own ship/AI and possibly needing to rescue his brother. He eventually finds his brother in a mining tunnel in a sort of trance and there is this unusual seductive music that he can hear but that his ship’s AI Miriam is unable to. He rescues his brother from the tunnel, but when he later falls asleep his brother leaves again and goes back to the tunnel where the siren song is. Abrim attempts another rescue against the advice of his ship. He finds his brother missing in the tunnel, just his space suit left behind. He too begins to fall under the spell and his ship’s AI Miriam overriding protocols manages to rescue him and bring him back. When he awakens, his brother’s ship is gone. The mystery surrounding his brother isn’t resolved. Pretty good story even though a lot isn’t explained as much as one would wish.

The next longish short story “The Garcia Narrows Bridge” is set within Allen Steele’s Coyote Rising series. Since I haven’t read any of the series I was probably at a slight disadvantage. However, the story is clearly an homage to the classic film, “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and despite my lack of background of the Coyote planet and history, I was able to enjoy the story and the characters and the undertaking to build a large nearly two mile long bridge to span the break between two continents. The story begins at the opening ceremony and gathering, just as the bridge has been finished, and we then learn of the construction as a backstory. The bridge was built to exploit the much needed resources of the adjacent continent, but also to track down the whereabouts of the original colonists who had fled the arrival of new ones. The story is part biography/analysis of the architect, James Alonzo Garcia, and part River Kwai. I thought it a very fine tale, and will want to read more of Allen Steele’s Coyote stories.

“Coal Ash and Sparrows” by Michael J Jasper, is a strange story, and the weakest in the issue. I don’t think one can call this science fiction; it is all about magic. Supposedly there is a war between two sides of magic, The Hand vs. The Fist. It struck me as a rather pointless sort of fairy tale. Parts of the story I liked well enough, but overall I guess I’d say it was confusing and didn’t work for me.

The final story is a great, intriguing novella, “This Old Man” by Steven Popkes. This old man, Mr. Hibbert, is indeed old. Over four thousand years old. He was born a Sumerian, and now lives in a future dystopia following a plague that has devastated humanity and only left small pockets of illiterate people. Slowly civilization of a sort is coming together again, although due to the plague no one other than Hibbert can read. We learn about things through conversations with Hibbert and his bodyguard/attaché Lem. Hibbert has a special way with dogs, as well as with people. The story is as much Lem's as it is Hibbert's and one wishes it were a full length novel. ( )
  RBeffa | Feb 16, 2010 |
Your standard just about good type issue, at a 3.42. Nothing poor, and the best part if more of Steele's Coyote saga.

Some reflecting on SETI.

PDF talks about Westerfeld in the non-kid's book sense, and local Max Barry's Jennifer Government, which I'd like to find some time.

ASIMOVS336 : Nectar - Brian Stableford
ASIMOVS336 : Songs the Sirens Sing - Mary Rosenblum
ASIMOVS336 : The Garcia Narrows Bridge - Allen M. Steele
ASIMOVS336 : This Old Man - Steve Popkes
ASIMOVS336 : Coal Ash and Sparrows - Michael J. Jasper
ASIMOVS336 : Embracing-the-New - Benjamin Rosenbaum

New flower girl's shadowbats, Dragon Man.

3.5 out of 5

Mining sibling monsters.

3.5 out of 5

Poetry of the River Kwai not to Matriarch's liking. All fall down.

4 out of 5

Live long, know best, maybe.

3.5 out of 5

Magic book 'n me.

3 out of 5

Godless memory.

3 out of 5

http://notfreesf.blogspot.com/2008/06/asimovs-336-gardner-dozois.html
( )
  bluetyson | Jun 23, 2008 |
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