Asimov’s, June 2009

This month’s Asimov’s arrived while I was still waiting for F&SF‘s May/June number, supposedly mailed over a month ago. Apparently the new format at F&SF is not working out well with the post office. Moving on to the subject at hand, this month’s Asimov’s is good across the board, but no story really steps up to the next level.

If there is a highlight in the issue, it’s James Patrick Kelly‘s “Going Deep”. This is apparently Kelly’s 25th successive year appearing in the June issue of Asimov’s, an event that occasions a column from editor Sheila Williams and a collection of reflections on Kelly’s writing and character from other prominent authors. “Going Deep” is a story about a teen who was born, in fact cloned, for a particular purpose, and now on the verge of adulthood she has to face her destiny, and also the return of her mother, who’s been away on a long space journey since the girl’s infancy. In my last post I was a bit worried I was too hard on John Scalzi for his portrayal of a young female character in Zoe’s War. Along with its other merits, this Kelly piece shows how much more believable a young female protagonist can be.

“Controlled Experiment” by Tom Purdon sets the stage for the rest of the magazine. It’s enjoyable but not hook-line-and-sinker engaging. The question behind the story is how we might deal with extending prison sentences in a future with life-extending medical technology leading to hundred-year life spans. Our protagonists are managing an experiment in early-release involving Bud, a former “mischief” whose pranks went awry, causing two deaths years ago. Now another mischief is trying to goad the former prisoner into a new crime, for the benefit of political forces who want the prisoner-release experiment to fail. There’s a decent story here, and significant questions behind it, but somehow I never got fully invested in it. The central character of Bud remains undeveloped, and in the end the story ties up so quickly I almost wasn’t sure what happened.

Next up John Alfred Taylor’s “Bare, Forked Animal” is about a man who loses all contact with the world around him because of over-reliance in society on virtual reality overlaying the real world. It seems to be meant as a warning against excessive trust in technology, but this message has been repeated many times in sf and elsewhere over the years, and (at least I hope) it isn’t really as ignored as the author seems to think, which makes the premise seem very unlikely.

Eric Brown‘s “Cold Testing”, similarly, is a story that might have been more at home in the science fiction of 40 years ago. A spaceship captain hires a new crewmember, a new model female-formed android, and starts to become emotionally attached to “her”. It’s capably written, but doesn’t really explore any territory that hasn’t been covered in Star Trek.

“The Monsters of Morgan Island” by Sandra McDonald combines a kind of romantic mood to describe a small town society with post-modern narration, giving a new and interesting feel to the story. The ending, which solidifies a previously obscured theme of deconstructing the idea of “monsters”, makes this the most meaningful story in the magazine. Unfortunately, for me the authorial cleverness in developing the mood blunted the impact of this serious idea behind the story. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out this is a much better story on the second reading than on the first.

Finally, “Sails the Morne” by Chris Willrich, after Kelly’s story, is the closest in the magazine to stepping up from good to great. The story showcases a varied cast of characters, mostly aliens, in a kind of locked-room whodunnit scenario. Spaceship Eight Ball‘s key cargo is missing and Captain Gesar “Brick” Chin, a Sino-Tibetan-Martian sometime smuggler, is trying to figure out who took it. The multi-factional future solar system, dominated by technologically advanced aliens in the Kuiper belt, appears to be well thought out. Unfortunately, I was interrupted a couple of times while reading it and had to set it down overnight, which didn’t help me to keep track of all the details needed to follow the information-dense mystery format. This is probably is why I never got fully “in” to the story.

So, again, this was a very evenly “good” issue of Asimov’s. There are no duds here. But nothing that really jumps off the page either.

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