Asimov’s, October/November 2009

“Blood dauber”, Ted Kosmatka and Michael Poore Bell might not quite be down and out, but he’s sure not up and in. He works a low-paying job as a zookeeper, where he gets the unwanted jobs because he won’t take risky ones. He fights constantly with his wife. In one thread of the story, Bell works with a parolee doing community service work. Like the animals Bell won’t work with, Cole is unpredictable and dangerous. In another thread, Bell discovers what seems to be a previously unknown species of insects, possibly one that even transcends what we currently think of as a species. These story threads wind around each other and interrelate to deliver a strong message about relationships and the human animal. Excellent.

“Where the time goes”, Heather Lindsley In an enjoyable time-travel farce, a pair of time prospectors must fend off their creditors long enough to fix a paradox they’ve created.

“Wife-stealing time”, R. Garcia y Robertson This story returns us to the world of SinBad the sand sailor, last seen in the July 2009 Asimov’s. Like the previous outing to Barsoom this is a fun romp through a dangerous world. This new story loses some of the fun of the earlier one by approaching sexual situations more directly, rather than with a humorous roundabout. Even so, it’s still an enjoyable read.

“Flowers of Asphodel”, Damien Broderick Asterion is wakened early from a rejuvenating “Big Sleep” in a world where the Singularity is expected at any moment but seems to be stalled. The reason Asterion is awoken early is that his former wife, Europa, is about to do something very dangerous, possibly to the entire universe. The story is well put together, and the idea of a stalled Singularity is a nice twist, but otherwise too much seems to be borrowed from elsewhere. The dysfunctional family at the heart of the Singularity changes is just too much like the one in Stross’ Accelerando sequence, in particular, giving this story a “me-too” quality.

“Erosion”, Ian Creasey Our first-person protagonist is trying out a new body he’s been given in preparation for joining an interstellar colony mission, and ends up getting in some trouble hiking on the English coast. Like the Broderick story, this one is borrowing heavily from elsewhere, in this case from John Scalzi’a Old Man’s War (and probably older material that Scalzi borrowed from too). But Creasey is not as ambitious as Broderick: his story is shorter, and the borrowing isn’t an entire plot and theme, but just a technological premise; so it works out better to my taste.

“Flotsam”, Elissa Malcohn As a young girl Mercedes discovered a biological “impossibility” in the polluted coastal waters of her city. The discovery, and the way it was denied haunts her throughout her life in the working class world of the US-Mexican border. Working blue collar jobs, she spends her free time researching the impossibility she’s sure she remembers from childhood. An excellent story, which does particularly well at blending the story of Mercedes as a person between cultures into an sf story.

“Before my last breath”, Robert Reed A geologist makes a discovers an unusual fossil in the bottom of a pit mine, leading to a mystery about the origins and fate of long-ago visitors to Earth. Very well done.

“The ghost hunter’s beautiful daughter”, Christopher Barzak Sylvie’s special abilities are the secret to her father’s ghost hunting business, but she doesn’t agree with the need to rid the world of ghosts. She goes along with her father due to his authority and because ghost hunting has become his only real success in life. A well-developed study of family bonds in opposition to personal convictions.

“Deadly sins”, Nancy Kress A kind of caper story with an SF twist. Renata has murdered Dr. Rudy Malter, a biotech scientist who she worked for as an assistant. And she’s ready to admit to the murder. The mystery is why she’s admitting to it. A fine short piece.

“The sea of dreams”, William Barton Allen Burke, aka Mr. Zed, is investigating a mysterious object in orbit around Uranus, assisted by Ylva, a computer incorporating human “central nervous system tissue”, and a troop of vat grown human bodies operated as peripherals by the computer. The story starts off as a basic space opera superman story about the hypertalented Burke, but then veers off into an homage to E. R. Burroughs once the mystery object is investigated. Not a bad story, and fun to read, but really loose when it comes to thematic coherency.


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