REVIEW SUMMARY: The nonfiction columns and high quality of selected stories offer a promising start to the first double issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction for 2013, to be followed up next week with a review of the remainder of the issue.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Post-human anti-heroes, alien wars, dreams of flying made real, political protest and near-future cybernetics dominate the first half of this double issue.
PROS: Thought-provoking concepts; engaging world-building; strong characterization; self-contained stories.
CONS: Stories may add to your already growing to-read pile; morally ambiguous characters in two of the stories may not be to everyone’s liking.
BOTTOM LINE: The April/May issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction starts out with strong columns by editor Sheila Williams and author Robert Silverberg and continues to deliver with Neal Asher’s novella and the short story by Linda Nagata which follows as well as my one random selection, a short story by Karl Bunker which proves to be the best of this week’s offerings.
“The Other Gun” by Neal Asher (Novella)
This novella originally developed as a plot thread that was lifted from the first of a new trilogy about a black A.I. known as Penny Royal. The protagonist is Tuppence, a man who is now mostly machine, traveling through space with a dinosaur who was once an exotic dancer seeking to recover the dismantled portions of a super-weapon for the last of an alien race referred to as The Client. The Client wishes to exact revenge on the prador, the race of beings who destroyed its people. If that opening descriptions sounds bizarre, you don’t know the half of it. Asher’s story is filled with imaginative ideas that leave the reviewer in the unenviable place of writing descriptions that cannot succeed at capturing the techno-coolness of his world building. “The Other Gun” echoes my previous experience with Neal Asher’s work in that it puts the reader directly in the middle of a fully-formed universe with multiple ideas, layers of history, and plot threads all working at once. Familiarity with dark futuristic science fiction and interesting, if equally dark, characters keeps the reader from feeling lost as the workings of Asher’s universe slowly coalesce in the imagination. “The Other Gun” succeeds in telling a contained story while ensuring that readers who find it satisfying will be seeking out his newest trilogy.
“Through Your Eyes” by Linda Nagata (Short Story)
James Shelley is nineteen, has just spent the day in hormonal bliss with his girlfriend Lissa, and is heading off to meet his friend Nick with no particular destination in mind. That lack of planning finds Nick and Shelley in the midst of an Anti War Machine rally in downtown Manhattan. Shelley is in possession of the latest cybernetic technology: optic and aural implants and tattooed wiring that keep him permanently linked to the web, allowing Lissa to link up and see through his eyes while also allowing him to record anything he thinks she might want to see if she is offline. The rally turns out to be much bigger than anticipated so Shelley has the record function running as things progressively get more dangerous and out of hand. Nagata does a fantastic job of relaying the excitement and fear of public demonstrations while ratcheting up the tension as Shelley finds himself swept up in the control of powerful people. The science fiction elements that overlay the story serve to set it in the near future but it is the very present human fears and emotions that make the story an engaging one.
“Gray Wings” by Karl Bunker (Short Story)
In his first appearance in Asimov’s, Bunker tells one heck of an interesting story with surprising depth for such a brief tale. This short story examines the moral and ethical complexities of the haves and have-nots in a science fictional setting in which nanotechnology and genetic modifications allow humans to achieve one of their age-old dreams: the ability to fly like the birds. Amy is soaring along somewhat absentmindedly considering that she is participating in a lengthy aerial race when the wash from jet engines causea her to lose control and crash into the thatched roof of a barn in an impoverished area of a third world nation. An older woman and her son, Dabir, come to Amy’s rescue, allowing her to stay with them and helping to bind her wings while her nanotech rapidly heals her wounds. Amy is immediately uncomfortable in her surroundings, not the least reason being that her hunger to get back in the race seems like a paltry concern next to the poverty and lack she sees in the lives of these helpful people. Though the story has a message that could have been told in any genre, Bunker’s science fictional elements manage to be intriguing without distracting from the story’s import. Though short, “Gray Wings” does an admirable job of exploring Amy’s conflicting emotions and leaves the reader not only wishing for further tales with this character but also provokes thoughts about how we who live in prosperous nations address the need we see in other nations as well as our own.
Editor Sheila Williams continues her excellent editorials focused on the real life men and women who went beyond reading science fiction to living it in their various roles in NASA over the years. In this issue she focuses on NASA’s Astronaut Group 8, in particular the astronaut with the coolest name ever: Sally Ride. Column limitations leave space fans wishing for more but Williams consistently manages to include references to other works that give the curious direction on where to go for more information.
Robert Silverberg uses this month’s Reflections column to talk to readers about his desk, a Cole Steel Equipment Company desk, that has been with him since the fall of 1956. While on the surface this may sound like a boring idea for a column, fans who enjoy a voyeuristic look into the lives of their favorite authors will no doubt find this as fascinating as I did. Silverberg’s devotion to the desk, and to his still-working Compaq 386, is a treat to behold.
Next week I will conclude the review of this double issue with reviews of stories by Ken Liu, Tom Purdom, Leah Cypress and more. I hope you will come back. And in the meantime, there is still plenty of time to snag a copy of this current issue of Asimov’s off the shelf or in e-format. These three stories alone are worth the cover price.