Asimov’s Science Fiction #481, February 2016

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Other Reviews:
Greg Hullender and Eric Wong, Rocket Stack Rank
Robert L. Turner III, Tangent Online
Sam Tomaino, SF Revu
Mark Watson, Best SF (forthcoming)

Fiction:
The Grocer’s Wife (Enhanced Transcription) • short story by Michael Libling ♥♥
Bringing Them Back • short story by Bruce McAllister ♥
In Equity • short story by Sarah Gallien ♥♥
Passion Summer • novelette by Nick Wolven ♥
Exceptional Forces • short story by Sean McMullen ♥♥♥
The Monster of 1928 • short story by Sandra McDonald ♥♥
The Charge and the Storm • novelette by An Owomoyela ♥♥

Non-fiction:
The Charge and the Storm • cover by Alejandro Colucci
Poetry • Robert Borski, G.O. Clark
Days of Future Past • editorial by Sheila Williams
A Famous Fantastic Mystery • essay by Robert Silverberg
Next Issue
On Books • by Peter Heck
SF Conventional Calendar • by Erwin S. Strauss

The only fiction item that really grabbed me in this issue is Exceptional Forces  by Sean McMullen, which has a clear, direct and driven narrative that some of the other writers in this issue would do well to emulate, in part if not completely. This tells of a Russian astronomy professor (also a ‘socialised savant’) who is picked up by a female assassin the night before he is supposed to deliver a paper at a conference. They end up back in her hotel room and an intriguing and menacing dialogue begins between them when he tells her he knows that she has been sent to kill him. He also tells her she has been sent because he has discovered widespread alien life in the Andromeda Galaxy. This one gets off to a cracking start and manages to keep it up for about three-quarters of the story but ultimately it doesn’t entirely convince for a couple of reasons, the most obvious one (spoiler) being she shoots her husband when he turns up intending to dispose of the professor’s body. A high-wire act that mostly succeeds.

The best of the rest is probably In Equity by Sarah Gallien. This tells of Cole, a thirteen year old orphan in the near future being taken by his care worker to meet prospective parents. The story mostly takes place at the house and tells of the initial reluctance of the woman who lives there to take him, and her partner’s plan to put him in a high-tech private school where he will be a test subject for gene-therapy. This is all told from the child’s viewpoint and is quite good as far as it goes (it is a reworked part of a novel in progress). Unfortunately, it is rather too obviously an extract from a longer work and isn’t really a self-contained story.

With a couple of exceptions the rest mostly fall into the OK category. The Grocer’s Wife (Enhanced Transcription) by Michael Libling tells of an old couple with a husband who has Alzheimer’s. It also appears that the husband is under continual surveillance by a government employee. The parallel development of these two sides of the story is intriguing to start with, but (spoiler) the resolution of the State disguising the downloading of his memories as Alzheimer’s is too odd and paranoid and did not convince me.
The Monster of 1928 by Sandra McDonald is a Cthulhu story in the 1928 Florida Everglades and has the natives coping with monsters and floods, sometimes both together. Interesting idea and background but the writer doesn’t really progress much beyond introducing these elements.
The Charge and the Storm by An Owomoyela is initially quite a promising story about Petra, a human ‘Maker’ in an alien-human colony. The humans are the descendants of a generation starship, and the planetary hosts are the hierarchical alien Su. These aliens have largely destroyed their planet and huge lightning storms occur outside the shared habitat. Some of the humans have been altered over the generations by the Su and have special powers:

Hen—Suva Hen, highest rank in the colony, could reach into a person’s body and direct, in broad strokes, the growth of cells, the patterns of immune response, the firing of synapses. Sulai Petra, one rank below as the Su recognized it, could only control the lightning.
A strong skill, a Maker skill, when it came to directing the responsive material of the habitats, feeding the biomat infrastructure with power. The Suva, Su Fathers, could create new Su life, but the Makers could control the colony.

The story starts with Petra saving an old friend from being excised—executed—by the Su for his separatist activity: a group of outsiders live and plot at the generation spaceship site. Matters develop largely around the relationships between Petra, Ilen (Petra’s ex-partner), Nash (the rescued man) and a fourth man Amad (a separatist). Colony-Separatist relations also complicate matters between these players.
Unfortunately, in the latter stages of the story the emotional storm engulfing Petra and all her relationships rather overwhelms the developing physical storm outside. I was more interested in the science fictional content of this story rather than these relationship matters, so I thought it faded towards the end. If this was a movie, I think I would say ‘chick-flick’.

The ones that didn’t work for me include Bringing Them Back by Bruce McAllister which is a short apocalyptic tale about the serial extinction of species on Earth. This comes to an abrupt halt and comes over as a worthy and somewhat pointless lecture. I know the world is going to hell, tell me how we may make matters better, or entertain me as they get worse!
Passion Summer by Nick Wolven didn’t even start to convince me about its premise. Jeff, a fourteen year old, gets his first ‘Passion’—an artificial short-term love for something of his choice. This all plays out against a society where this kind of thing is prevalent, and where jobs seem to be menial and involve long hours. Jeff also has to cope with a dysfunctional mother. After getting his Passion the problem is that it doesn’t wear off after a month or so like it is supposed to. Apart from a failure to suspend disbelief, none of this coheres, and it it takes its time in not doing so.

The non-fiction is fairly sparse in this issue. Days of Future Past by Sheila Williams is an editorial about the complaints from late last year that the movie Back to the Future didn’t predict the future. Only stupid people would think that a movie was going to, but I suppose editorial topics are thin on the ground.
A Famous Fantastic Mystery by Robert Silverberg is an reminiscence about the teenage Silverberg seeing the new design of the pulp magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries (January, 1951) in a subway newspaper booth on the way home from a late-night party. He spends the next few days wondering if he has had a hallucination. It materialises that he hasn’t, but the intensity of his concern about whether he did, and his all-consuming involvement in the minutiae of the field will strike a chord with anyone reading this kind of website.
There are a couple of poems. The Robert Borski one, Murmuration, isn’t bad. It starts with the introduction of starlings to the USA and leaps forward a century and a half to the introduction other mythical creatures from Shakespeare’s plays.
In On Books, Peter Heck reviews several promising books by half a dozen authors. I had to steel myself not to go onto Amazon and start ordering.

With only the one story of any note, this is quite a lacklustre issue.

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