Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 33, No. 9 (September 2009) by Sheila Williams (editor)

Stories included:
Broken Windchimes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Soulmates by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn
Away from Here by Lisa Goldstein
Camera Obscured by Ferrett Steinmetz
In Their Garden by Brenda Cooper
The Day Before the Day Before by Steve Rasnic Tem
Tear-Down by Benjamin Crowell
Her Heart's Desire by Jerry Oltion

Poems included:
Speculative Tai Chi by Kendall Evans
Nearly Ready for Occupation by Danny Adams
The Last Alchemist by Bruce Boston

Full review: The September 2009 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction is another fine issue of a generally excellent magazine with many fairly good stories, a few very good ones, and no clunkers.

The anchor story of this issue is Broken Windchimes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The story revolves around a musician trained to perform before the alien Pane race, who have very specific and constraining ideas about what is acceptable as music. The protagonist of the story is a tenor trained since childhood in the exacting Pane style who misses a note by a hair's breadth and sees his career with them end. In shame, he flees to the nearest human space station where he learns just how much his fame on Pane has unknowingly cost him as well as the sad circumstances that led him to being transported to the dreary Pane world. The story manages to convey the joy of music via the written word, and is the best story in the issue.

Away from Here, by Lisa Goldstein, is a fantasy about a troop of what appear to be carnival folk who show up at a run down hotel to inject some life into a young woman's dead end existence toiling for her parents. The story focuses on the dangers of holding on to an unattainable fantasy and breaking away from the folly of one's parents (or at least hoping to do so). The story has a little bit of an air of unreality to it, which seems odd to say about a fantasy story, but it makes the story less effective than it could have been. Also on the subject of fantasy interfering with the pursuit of real life is Camera Obscured, by Ferrett Steinmetz, which focuses on the increasingly public nature of people's private lives following a teen desperate to be the best at something - in his mind anything will do - just so long as it makes him famous. His quixotic quest leads him to an unlikely friendship, and a realization that maybe his pursuit of fame isn't really what he wants.

Soulmates, by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn, is an unlikely buddy story, as a drunken night watchman distraught over the euthanasia of his wife forms a bond with a inquisitive repair robot at a manufacturing plant. The story is a little predictable, but it is sweet without being cloying. In their Garden, by Brenda Cooper, shares some thematic similarities to Away from Here, a teen protagonist living and working with an older community preserving the past but yearning to break free and strike out on her own. On the whole, it is a much more effective story than Away from Here because it has a core of reality to its protagonist's frustration and a motivation for its staid elder generation that strikes home in a way that the overtly fantastical elements in Away from Here do not.

The Day Before the Day Before, by Steve Rasnic Tem, is a time travel story with the classic elements many such stories have, but with the twist that the time traveler has rebelled against the dictates of his mission and knows he has altered time. Because the traveler ends up trapped by the fact that the best possible outcome for him is that he is merely stranded in the past rather than being subjected to some sort of retribution from those he betrayed, the story manages to be both hopeful and depressing at the same time, which is a rare feat.

Tear-Down by Benjamin Crowell is a humorous, although fairly lightweight, story about the difficulties an AI driven house and its new occupants face adjusting to each other.  Her Heart's Desire is the one wish-fulfillment story in the issue that has a happy ending, although the wish of the titular "her" isn't fulfilled in the way that she expects. Both of these stories are nothing more than diversions, but they remain fun and entertaining.

Overall, with a collection of stories that range from merely diverting to very good, and lacking in any weak ones to drag the whole down, this is a good issue of Asimov's that continues the magazine's tradition of offering high quality short science fiction.

Previous issue reviewed: August 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: October/November 2009

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